My Loebner Prize Contest 2010 Reflections

No Go

Chip didn’t get past the screening round of the 2010 Loebner Prize Competition.

I figured that I could spare myself a trip to New York that year since Chip had successfully made it through the screening round in 2009 and participated in the 2009 competition.

To my dismay, however, I got an email from Hugh saying that he couldn’t get the program to respond. The startup sequence seemed normal, but the program was silent whenever you said anything to it. I initially thought that this was a permissions problem: that Chip might have not had permissions to access the communications protocol directory required by the Loebner Prize Protocol. (The Loebner Prize Protocol is the “language” that the chatbot and the judge program use to communicate with each other.) Further discussions revealed that this wasn’t the case, however. All but one of the entries had successfully run, and there were many this time (13?), proof that the LPP was no longer a barrier to entry as it was in 2009 and that Chip would need real talent to make it to the Final Four.

With a heavy heart, I booked another flight to NYC. Luckily, I was able to stay with a friend, as I did last year when I paid Hugh a visit, so the only major cost was that of the plane flight.

I arrived at Crown Industries and was greeted by Hugh, his coworker and the same cats I had met the year before. I’m not sure whether the cats recognized me, but they immediately proceeded to jump on the desk, walk all over my keyboard and computer, insist on treats. That’s okay, I thought, I like cats. I just didn’t want to get too much fur in the keyboard or have them walk on the pen drive protruding from the computer.

Hugh was right. Chip started up properly, but didn’t respond. To my horror, I realized that it was because Hugh was feeding the test sentences to Chip without hitting the [Return] key. Chip was trained to use [Return] as the way you signaled the end of your input, like you would with a normal IM conversation. Game over. I was able to scrounge up the source for Chip from a backup, correct the bug, then go through the screening process anyway. Chip didn’t fare that badly, though he failed to respond to certain questions he should have been able to answer, probably due to my last-minute hacking in England the year before. Oh well, at least I had a new logfile with quality questions and Chip’s answers that I could use to improve Chip for 2011.

During my previous visit to NYC in 2009 for the prescreening, my friend wanted me to check out Candle Café but it never happened. Then I lived in Manhattan for six weeks in the beginning of 2010 at a contract-to-hire stint for Bloomberg. (They made me an offer but I turned it down. NYC definitely isn’t for me, though I started out hating the city and the people and now I like both of them. (New Yorkers are to-the-point, straight shooters, which throws off people with Midwestern roots like me who expect smiles and gushing congeniality from strangers.) (For my foreign friends: here’s a definition of straight shooter.))

Anyway, Candle Café never happened during those six weeks either. So this time around, I made it a point to go there because I figured that the universe would keep making me come back until I did.

The food was delicious, but not worth several hundred dollars in plane fare. I sincerely hope I fulfilled my debt to NYC or Candle Café or “putting in the time and effort for the LPC”, or whatever.

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