Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Facebook’s experimental chatbot is learning to do small talk

January 25, 2018

A chatbot trained to engage its partner on personal topics can learn to predict information about the other participant.

Background: Even with AI, chatbots are brittle systems that typically can’t talk about anything outside of what they’ve been trained on. They also tend not to have a personality or long-term memory, so most development for chat agents is around task-specific goals, like airline bookings.

Once more, with feeling: A new paper by Facebook AI Research demonstrates a way to create a bot that is good at general conversation, a.k.a. chit chat. Trained on a new data set consisting of 164,356 utterances between crowdsourced workers who were asked to chat, the system can store a persona in a memory-augmented neural network and produce “more personal, specific, consistent and engaging responses.”

Getting to know you: Using the same setup, the chatbot asks its dialogue partner questions about personal topics, which it can then use to build a model of the partner. Human evaluators still ranked human partners much higher across board for things like persona and consistency, but this model outscored one trained on movie dialogue—one of the largest dialogue data sets out there.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

What does GPT-3 “know” about me? 

Large language models are trained on troves of personal data hoovered from the internet. So I wanted to know: What does it have on me?

An AI that can design new proteins could help unlock new cures and materials 

The machine-learning tool could help researchers discover entirely new proteins not yet known to science.

Meta’s new AI can turn text prompts into videos

It’s a breakthrough in generative AI that raises some tough ethical questions.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.