Cautionary Tales – The Online Date That’s Too Good To Be True

7th October, 2022

Single and looking for love, Dr Robert Epstein found himself chatting with a slim, attractive brunette online. She seemed perfect… perhaps even too good to be true. 

Dr Epstein is an expert on artificial conversation – so surely he’d be the last person to fall for a computer? Chatbots fool us more often than we think… especially when they replicate our worst conversational habits.  

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.

The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Royston Beserve, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morano, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

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Further reading and listening

A wonderful overview (and one of my favourite ever books) is Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human.

Robert Epstein “From Russia, with Love How I got fooled (and somewhat humiliated) by a computerScientific American Mind 17

Eugene Goostman’s victory was reported here by the BBC, here by the Huffington Post, and here in a Coventry University press release.

Mark Humphrys describes the MGonz conversation in detail here.

Jason Fagone describes the story of Joshua Barbeau and the Jessica Simulation in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Gary Marcus Chatbots: Still Dumb After All These Years.

The New York Times and Replika describe the Replika chatbot.

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