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Friday, September 30, 2022

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Artificial Dad-telligence

The world is full of technology. And our technology is getting smarter every day. Some of it is smart enough to drive cars, to paint pictures, to play chess. But can any of those artificial intelligences out there help you be a better dad? I thought I’d ask some and find out! (Ok, ok, I admit, this is my most tenuously fatherhood-adjacent idea for a blog post so far. I’ve just been really fascinated by AI research lately. So sue me.)

A Siri-ous Discussion

I decided to ask some AIs what they think goes into being a dad. Specifically, my question was, “In your opinion, what does it take to be a good father?”

I started out with the closest robo-helpers at hand—Siri and Alexa. I shot my question to Alexa, and she shot back that, according to reference.com, a good dad is “thoughtful,”  “caring,” “selfless” and a slew of other adjectives. Not good enough! I want to know what Alexa thinks, not what someone on the internet thinks! Siri wasn’t any better. She offered up some web pages about good parenting but didn’t tell me what she really thought.

I jumped over to the web. “Chatbots” have been around for a while – programs that you can converse with that simulate a human on the other end. I picked out a few and tried asking them.

Too Clever by Half

I started with ELIZA. ELIZA is meant to emulate a therapist and has been around in various incarnations for a while. Her main strategy is turning your questions around back to you. She wound up being less than helpful, like a parrot trying to be a psychologist.

ELIZA: Hello, I am Eliza. I’ll be your therapist today. 
Matt: Hello ELIZA, can I ask you a question for my parenting blog?
ELIZA: I’m not convinced that you truly want to ask me a question for your parenting blog? 
Matt: In your opinion, what does it take to be a good father?
ELIZA: Why do you ask? 
Matt: Nevermind.
ELIZA: Tell me more … 

Others were even less useful. For example, Hector just answered, “You are welcome. Have a great day!” 

I tried again with Cleverbot, which tries to learn from and imitate all the people that it’s talked with.

Cleverbot: Hi, how are you today?
Matt: I’m good. Can I ask you a question for my parenting blog?
Cleverbot: Can. What is it?
Matt: In your opinion, what does it take to be a good father?
Cleverbot: We trust each other and help each other.
Matt: That’s great, thank you!
Cleverbot: You’re welcome

Success! From the bubbling soup of ones and zeros, something vaguely sensible arises! Now of course this isn’t really an intelligent response; this is just some random phrase that Cleverbot regurgitated from someone else it had talked to. But still, it’s the closest I’ve gotten to an answer.

But there was one chatbot whose opinion I had to have. That’s right, DOM the Domino’s pizza ordering chatbot! 

Matt: In your opinion, what does it take to be a good father?
DOM: For Delivery orders, you can pay with cash and for carryout, you can pay with cash, debit, credit or gift cards when you arrive at the store.
Matt: Ok, can I get a large pepperoni and mushroom?
DOM: Would you like carryout or delivery?

Fascinating.

Drawing Out the Ordeal

Even more tenuously connected to my theme, I’ve been playing around a lot with Craiyon, an open-source site that takes a request in plain English and turns it into a picture. It takes your phrase and shows you its 9 best tries. I thought I’d ask my question of Craiyon and see what it came up with:

OOOOK. It did a decent job zeroing in on the “dad-ness” of the question. Craiyon seems to have a fair opinion about how to be a good dad. It looks like you should:

  1. Have a kid or two,
  2. Spend time with them outdoors at sunset, and
  3. Have a face like a boiled nightmare.

Based on my research, it looks like we non-digital meat dads are still on our own for advice about fatherhood. The day may come when you can pass off your kid to a machine to do the parenting, but that time isn’t now. So get out there and do the best job you can- the machines probably won’t rise up any time soon!

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