A crowdsourced artificial chat partner that’s smarter than Siri-style personal assistants

September 10, 2012

The Chorus system. User requests are forwarded to crowd workers, who then submit and vote on responses. Once sufficient agreement is reached, responses are made visible to users. The crowd’s working memory is updated by workers selecting lines from the conversation or summarizing important facts. (Credit: W.S. Lasecki, Rachel Wesley, Anand Kulkarni, J.P. Bigham)

Personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri may be useful, but they are still far from matching the smarts and conversational skills of a real person.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have demonstrated a new, potentially better approach that creates a smart artificial chat partner from fleeting contributions from many crowdsourced workers, Technology Review reports.

When people talk to the new crowd-powered chat system, called Chorus, using an instant messaging window, they get an experience practically indistinguishable from chatting with a single real person.

Yet behind the scenes, each response is the result of tens of people paid a few cents to perform small tasks: including suggesting possible replies and voting for the best suggestions submitted by other workers.

Tests where Chorus was asked for travel advice showed that it could be smarter than any one individual in the crowd, because around seven people were contributing to its responses at any one time.