I'm sitting in a small frosted-glass demo room, in the B-School basement at UCLA, watching an artificial intelligence "think"; it's strange and intriguing.
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TEVI (Textpert empathetic virtual interface) is decoding some relationship drama typed in by Textpert CEO Ray Christian. What's different about TEVI, compared to other A.I. conversations I've seen is that TEVI understands a bewildering amount of 20-something slang. It can, for example, comprehend that "Been on 5 dates, time to go exclusive?" is not only a statement that requires a considered response, but it knows what "exclusive" means in this context.
As we peer at the large demo screen, TEVI shows her inner workings, drilling down through abstract and procedural deductions. As we hover over each word, TEVI extrapolates meaning, re-calculating sentiment (sad, neutral, happy, and variations within) and intent, while constantly re-categorizing (courtship, dating, ex) depending on word adjacencies.
After a few moments, Christian taps the "Talk to me TEVI" button and she delivers a rather Confucian response: "the time may not be right, sometimes best to let things happen naturally." But if a philosophy of Chinese thought from 500 years ago can help a modern 20-something tearing out her hair in Southern California, who are we to judge?
When I wrote about Textpert over a year ago, the service was cloud-based and used anonymous responses to love dramas from other humans. However, even at the time, Ray Christian knew he wanted to recreate Textpert as an A.I., so digital conversations were stored, categorized, and analyzed in preparation for TEVI.
"We needed a huge, deep, data set to train TEVI as a neural network," said Christian. "So now we have a store of 85,000 questions, with 200,000 responses and, including Q&A and conversations, a total of 22 million words for her to learn from."
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What's different about TEVI is she's totally unscripted. This is not a bot, stressed Christian.
"How do children learn language? That's the one model we know for how language is acquired," he explained. "The reason TEVI is so cool, and why we're excited by her, is her neural networks use both qualitative and quantitative data. We're also training Tevi both supervised—giving feedback on the data—and unsupervised, as in the language generation model that you've seen here today. She's learning grammar, vocab, relevance, syntax, question/statement in order to generate each response at the character level—none of this is scripted at all."
Christian calls it Artificial Intuition or Intuition-as-a-service. "It's fun for me because it's so novel each time she responds, we don't know where these phrases come from, we haven't written them, she's coming up with them based on what she's learned, and continues to acquire, in real time. We're still playing with relevance models, but sometimes her response is so spot on, it's freaky."
Christian says TEVI's functionality will go far beyond day-to-day matters of the heart, essentially addressing any issue one might have, in the form of an A.I. therapist. "We want everyone to have a friend, a mentor, a philosopher at their fingertips, to help solve any problem they might have."
TEVI has been rolled into the Textpert app so it knows your age, profile, and past conversations. "Essentially she has a working knowledge and growing understanding of who she's talking to. Tevi is blending the insights of our greatest thinkers with the empathic cadence of a best friend. An AI entity for everyone and yet, an AI entity just for you."
TEVI doesn't run within another system like A.I. therapist Woebot, which uses third-party chat functionality and verification software. As a standalone product, Textpert can control, and retain, the data gathered, and ensure users' privacy.
In the demo I saw, TEVI was still giving slightly vague responses. However, what's scientifically impressive is the way she's learning. She'll get there in the end, you can feel it.