January 31, 2020

Meena ; The world of a.i, conversational agents (aka chatbots)

By Ashish Sharma

With AI platforms like Alexa and Siri improving every passing day, the next natural step for tech firms is to make them more human-friendly, at least in terms of conversation. We saw Samsung attempting this recently with its ‘Neon’ platform and now Google is trying to do the same with its new open-domain chatbot named ‘Meena’. This was announced by Daniel Adiwardana, Senior Research Engineer, and Thang Luong, Senior Research Scientist, Google Research, Brain Team in a blog post.

Modern conversational agents (chatbots) tend to be highly specialized — they perform well as long as users don’t stray too far from their expected usage. To better handle a wide variety of conversational topics, open-domain dialog research explores a complementary approach attempting to develop a chatbot that is not specialized but can still chat about virtually anything a user wants. Besides being a fascinating research problem, such a conversational agent could lead to many interesting applications, such as further humanizing computer interactions, improving foreign language practice, and making relatable interactive movie and videogame characters.

Impressively, Meena scored well with a 79% on the new metric. This score places Google’s new chatbot between the venerable Mitsuko which scored 56% and a human conversing partner who score 86% on the same test.

But Google will not be releasing Meena’s demo to the general public domain before putting its safety and potential biases to the test. If all checks are a go, the company might release a demo in the coming months to help advance research into neural conversation models and chatbots as a whole. The firm also noted that it “focused solely on sensibleness and specificity in this work” but other key attributes like personality and factuality might be the target of subsequent projects.