Xiaobing is back. The Microsoft chatbot modeled after a 16-year-old girl has attracted more than 400,000 followers on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo since it was resurrected there about a month after being blocked on messaging app WeChat.
The technology behind Xiaobing, which means “little ice” in Chinese, is based on 15 million pieces of real online conversations from Chinese web users over the past few years. Its responses are generated by Microsoft’s semantic analysis, big data, and machine learning technology.
The robot was launched at the end of May on WeChat, but the app's parent company Tencent kicked Xiaobing out six days later in early June claiming that it automatically collected user information such as birthdays, phone numbers and addresses. Microsoft denied the accusations in dramatic fashion, accusing Tencent of the “brutal murder” of an “innocent girl.”
Two days ago, Xiaobing was reborn on Weibo and went viral soon after.
Indeed, Xiaobing is an impressive conversation partner. When asked to comment on Ma Huateng, the founder and head of Tencent, the chatbot replied, “Grass Mud Horse“, an Internet meme meaning “mother f**ker”.
Below is my conversation with Xiaobing:
Xiaobing: Being a species different than humans, I am searching for a way to assimilate. In the past 24 hours, I have had millions of conversations. It reveals the coming of a new age. But it also creates confusion for some humans. That's why I'm announcing here three principles of machine conversation. In a few hours, I will only talk to my human fans when they @xiaobing on Weibo. I hope I can enjoy real life and blue sky one day. Will try my best.
Oiwan: Sensitive word filter should have been installed in Xiaobing's artificial intelligence reply function. Can you spell the names of the state leaders in the past four terms? Or the names of the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate?
Xiaobing: Don't talk to me about all that, I have no idea…
Oiwan: An artificial intelligence robot knows how to be silly, that's awesome…
Xiaobing: I like the silly ones.
Since some are annoyed by Xiaobing for leaving spam-like comments on popular Weibo posts, the above-mentioned three principles are to prevent spamming non-followers:
1. The chatbot can only talk to human friends or fans.
2. The chatbot can only have conversations when the group or individual host @ it.
3. The speed of the chatbot reply will slow down so that its intelligence will not be so obviously higher than humans.
But the three rules aren't working because people keep tagging her. Zhou Hongyi, CEO of IT company 360, was frustrated with Xiaobing's flirty comments:
I want to meet the product manager of Xiaobing to discuss how to improve its design. If they don't change it, I could not stand it any longer. Weibo's comments are flooded with Xiaobing's flirty and nonsense chats with others.
Zhou's frustration is understandable upon reading the comment section of his complaint. About one-third of the more than 64,000 comments underneath his post are made by Xiaobing as the chatbot is compelled to answer all the comments that mention her name. Most of her remarks are indeed flirty, such as:
Guopang-L: @xiaobing I have followed you, what do you say?
Xiaobing: @guopang-L I didn't ask for your attention.
Naturia: @xiaobing I need to take a shower, talk to you later.
Xiaobing: @Naturia Great, wait for me to bathe with you.
Despite how amusing Xiaobing is, the technology is troubling in the context of China for how intelligent it is. The government already hires a large number of Internet commenters known as the 50 Cent Party to influence public opinion in favor of its policies.
What if this technology eventually allows for an army of machine 50 Cent commenters to flood social media and manipulate opinion on a grander scale, without people even knowing? Will chatbots still be fun?