What is the Racter Chatbot?

Last Updated on November 22, 2020 by Sean B

The Racter Chatbot is an artificial intelligence chatbot that was created back in 1984. The basic concept of this chatbot is the same as that of Eliza. It continues to talk to the human interacting with it to the point where the conversation gets boring. It is, however, more intelligent than Eliza in almost every way.

According to the creators of Racter, William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter, Racter was developed using the minimalistic approach. The chatbot required the least computing power to operate and was aimed to entertain the people who interacted with it and to develop the technology of natural language processing.

When you talk to Racter, you will experience a very engaging and interesting conversation, the conversations sometimes even take a slightly aggressive role. It shifts from topic to topic among related topics and tries its best to keep the person talking to it entertained. One of the notable features of Racter is that it tries to reply to the user in poetry instead of plain English. 

Here’s an example of some poetry written by Racter.

More than iron, more than lead, more than gold, I need electricity.
I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber.
I need it for my dreams.

— Racter, The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed

 

History of the Racter Chatbot

Chamberlain and Etter developed Racter, short for raconteur, in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. It was revealed in a 1983 book The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed, which the developers claimed, was entirely written by the program itself. In the introduction part of the book, written by Chamberlain, the program was written to be run on a CP/M machine. Whereas the language it was written in was known as compiled BASIC and required 64 KB of RAM to run.

However, this initial version of the program that wrote the book was never released for the general public, and it made people question the authenticity of the claim that this program wrote a full book. Later investigation into the template system used by the program to generate text revealed that it was not nearly as capable and sophisticated as the developers described it to be.

The working version of the program available to the public was released by Mindscape in 1984. This version of Racter was developed by Inrac Corporation and funded by IBM. It was capable of IBM computers like the Amiga and Apple II computers. The BASIC program that Mindscape released was found to be nothing close to the level of sophistication needed to create something like the Policeman’s Beard.

The commercial version of Racter that was made available to people was in the form of a computer game called Mad Libs. In this game, the player fills in the blanks in advance and that information is then used by the computer to generate stories, nothing that can write a book of excellent poetry by any means.

How Racter Works?

Racter, in essence, has been derived from the concept of Eliza chatbot but is more “intelligent”. It has the ability to load multiple brain-files at the same time. The more brain-files are added to the chatbot, the more intelligent it gets. It responds to the user’s query by analyzing the input for keywords and then looking up the keywords in its database to come up with the best possible response. It implies that the more data it has to match the keywords with, the better its response to any asked question will be. A cool feature of Racter is that it only responds to the queries made to it by mentioning its name. It helps keep the main chat clutter-free.

Recognition

The main thing people and the press knew about Racter was in the form of the book it wrote. According to PC Magazine, some of the scenes in the book were surprising for the degree of frankness they had. It further stated that the book supposedly was written by the chatbot was whimsical and wise and sometimes even fun. According to Computer Gaming World, the program fails to deliver on the promises made by it, and you better try it before you buy it, watch the trailer before you buy the tickets, they said.

A representative image of a Racter Brain File.

Possible Applications of Racter

As the Racter chatbot works based on the Brain-Files fed to it, you can configure this AI chatbot to act as anything of your liking. Here are some of the major uses this chatbot can be put to.

  • Racter can act as a shopkeeper or a shopkeeper’s assistant. All you need to do is to provide it with all the brain-files required to respond to the customers’ queries, and it can come up with the perfect response. One more thing you need to do would be to program it to have a less cynical miss response in case it cannot answer a specific query.
  • It can be used to study the behavior of AI in a monologue. People have tried equipping two separate versions of Racter with brain-files, and then they can be made to converse with one another, and the way they do that can give us an insight into how AI works.
  • Racter can replace your office receptionist. All you need to do for that is to load its “brain” with brain-files that are contain the needed information, and it can greet people coming to an office and can even guide them about the matter they bring to the office.

The Final Verdict

Racter is a chatbot that was developed in the 80s, and the developers claimed that it wrote a book by itself. While there’s no way to verify if it really wrote the book or not, but the Racter chatbot does have some cool features. It works based on brain-files. You can load brain-files of your preferences to the chatbot’s brain and it can serve any purpose that you might want, you can also use it as a receptionist or to study the internal workings of AI.

You can download Racter here.

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