They'll act as tour guides, they'll assist customers in making purchases, they'll perform as synthetic interactive avatars of adult stars, and they'll serve as entertaining hosts who'll work 24/7 with no complaints and no raise.
They're called "intelligent agents," or more generically, "bots," and there are tools available right now that allow for the creation of virtual characters that can interact with visitors to your site. And there are many advantages to this babe bot invasion. Early indicators show they'll cut down on customer service costs, they'll keep visitors on your site longer, they'll be able to do very suggestive selling, and they'll make the customer experience more personalized, erotic and satisfying.
Intelligent agents have their roots in the early days of computing. Mathematician Alan Turing, who pioneered the theory of computability and machine intelligence, believed that a computer that had true artificial intelligence would be able to converse with a human without giving away its silicon identity. In 1950, he developed a process to test his theory: The aptly named Turing Test required a person to carry on a conversation via keyboard and monitor, and based on the responses, to determine whether they were conversing with a machine or another person. This is still the Holy Grail of AI, and a number of programs have become remarkably adept at carrying on a human-like conversation. Called Chatterbots, they usually can learn and are able to discuss a wide range of subjects.
It occurred to Tom Whalen that if he wanted to win the annual Loebner Prize (a limited Turing Test), he might as well make his bot talk about something people were interested in. He chose the topic of sex, and walked away with first place in 1994. Teaching TIPPS to converse about sex was not easy, though. Sex is a linguistically challenging subject, filled with synonyms, slang, and obscure references such as "do it". His attempt is quite impressive, though, able to respond to such questions as "Do women really enjoy anal sex?", "What percentage of women are bisexual?", and "How do I get laid?"
There are already some downloadable artificial women on the Net you can converse with. The beta of Cyberpunk Software's Virtual Woman is available for free download. You can generate any of hundreds of different women and then interact with them through a text window. They're programmed for sexual interaction. If you'd like to roll your own, you might try the free 7-day trial of Virtual Personalities' Verbots. Silvie is easy to program; you just edit a text file and add all the nasty bits to her conversation that you would like. With a little training, my originally demure copy has become quite a slut.
The explosion of the Internet and E-commerce has encouraged a lot of companies to look more seriously into the creation of interactive intelligent agents. A good basic example is the Imp technology from Extempo. Their site has a cartoon dog named Max that can answer your questions about the site. You can also chat with Erin the bartender and other visitors in Spence's Bar. Both have been programmed with personality, so that interacting with them is an interesting experience. Of course, these bots don't discuss sex. Max had no idea what it meant to do it "doggy style", and Erin threw me out of the bar when I asked her to show me her tits.
There are a number of other companies offering intelligent agent assistants for Web sites, but like Extempo, these technologies do not come cheap. They range from the tens to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Big Science Company has Klones, Neuromedia offers vReps, and Ebrain has a variety of different bots.
Not all intelligent agent technologies are that expensive, though. If you have your own NT Web server, Zabaware offers a software package for $395 that does most of the basics. You can chat with a variety of bots on their site to get a better idea of what can be done with the technology.
Artificial Life, Inc. has a $199 product called WebGuide Professional. You create a database of related information using their Knowledge Editor, and when a question is asked, a context based reply is generated by searching the database. It can also pull up a related Web page. You can change the displayed image for replies, using either static pictures or animated GIFs. The product runs as a Java app so you don't have to configure a server to run it.
The real key to creating effective intelligent agents is imbuing them with personality. One of the more promising technologies is in the form of Haptek's Virtual Friends. The current version of the product provides three-dimensional characters composed of wireframes that can have a number of skins wrapped on them for a wide variety of different looks. The main focus of Haptek's technology is to create artificial emotions within the context of a text to speech engine, turning text into a performance. They are working to improve their text to speech technology for more realistic and less robotic voices.
In March, they plan to ship People Putty, which will allow you to map your face onto a wireframe. Virtual Friends are able to speak any text file with lip synchronization. Because the faces are rendered in real time, you can have a wide variety of reactions and facial expressions. Further, Virtual Friends, which runs from a Web page as a plug-in, can perform any text file sent to it. Currently, a version of Ergo Linguistics Chatterbox is available that works directly with the stand-alone version of Virtual Friends. Chatterbox is a natural language query system that is easy to configure to respond to a wide variety of questions.
While the technologies have not quite all come together yet, it won't be long before very realistic artificial life forms will inhabit the Net, taking care of the mundane job of interfacing with the meat life forms that visit our sites. It's a pretty safe bet that some of the most interesting Babe Bots will come from the adult industry.