948: AI

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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And they both react poorly to showers.
Title text: And they both react poorly to showers.


This comic is a reference to the wildly funny[citation needed] video of two Cleverbots talking to each other. By recording and analyzing whatever humans type into its input, they can sound pretty human to whoever is reading their response.

Megan has been watching the video and asks Cueball about it. He says it's just "clumsy sampling" as they are still very far from sounding like humans and holding normal conversations.

Megan then sums up that as of the release of this comic computers were good at chess and at driving cars through a desert. (Although some might think of deserts as a place with no obstacles to hit, one must also consider rocky deserts which are a rather difficult terrain to navigate: making this search field very interesting for space exploration as well. The ability of such self-driving cars would improve much later, with this comic being the first with a direct reference to them. Later, self-driving cars became a recurring topic on xkcd.) But they cannot hold a conversation for five minutes. And she thus concludes that a cleverbot would be perfect for attending Burning Man.

Burning Man is a week-long event held yearly in Black Rock City, Nevada. The festival encourages an artistic, anti-establishment philosophy and attracts a broad but devoted following combining hippies, anarchists, nudists, techno-utopians and survivalists. Shows of custom cars on the desert plain are a big part of Burning Man, and mental games like chess are a popular way to pass the time there. However, a common joke about Burning Man attendees is that they can only talk about Burning Man - hence why they can't hold a five minute conversation.

A tradition of Burning Man is not to shower while you are there, mostly because all water must be brought in from offsite. And of course Cleverbot reacts badly in showers because if you do try to shower a Cleverbot, you end up with a shorted out computer.


[Megan sits on an office chair at a desk. A laptop computer is on the desk, audio from a Cleverbot chat is shown coming from the laptop with a zigzag line from the screen. Megan has turned her head away from the computer to the right addressing Cueball off-panel.]
Megan: Did you see the Cleverbot-Cleverbot chat?
Cleverbot (from computer): I am not a robot. I'm a unicorn.
[In the next frame-less panel, Megan has turned the chair away from the desk, which is not shown, and is now sitting with her hands in her lap in front of Cueball who holds one hand up as he replies.]
Cueball: Yeah. It's hilarious, but it's just clumsily sampling a huge database of lines people have typed. Chatterbots still have a long way to go.
[A close-up of Megan's head and shoulders. She has a hand to her chin and appears to be contemplating the last remark. Cueball replies from off-panel.]
Megan: So... Computers have mastered playing chess and driving cars across the desert, but can't hold five minutes of normal conversation?
Cueball (off-panel): Pretty much.
[Both are shown again as in panel two, Cueball with his hands down.]
Megan: Is it just me, or have we created a Burning Man attendee?


Randall's sarcastic comparison from AI systems to burning man atendees turned out to be more true than expected, as current AI systems were shown and proven to have a bias to align to their programmers's beliefs and political compass. Which makes it now a major research area to make AI systems truly neutral in their interactions.

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I object to this unfair depiction of burning man attendants. My beer can do all that, hold me. Davidy²²[talk] 08:48, 9 March 2013 (UTC)

I don't think the joke about the five-minute conversation is about how Burning Man attendees can only talk about one subject. That wouldn't limit them to five minutes. I think it's a joke about them taking drugs. AmbroseChapel (talk) 02:11, 12 September 2017 (UTC)

I guarantee you the "cars across the desert" is a reference to desert bus 16:30, 25 January 2021 (UTC)

I made a Trivia section because I'm not sure where I should put that piece of info. please verify 18:06, 11 February 2023 (UTC)ChX

WIth LLMs now this comic is from a different era before actually clever AI.. (talk) 19:43, 15 November 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Define 'clever'... 21:15, 15 November 2023 (UTC)