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Don't Fear the Chatbot

robot using a laptop

There has been a lot of angst amongst some professionals, including genealogists, about the use of computer Artificial Intelligence programs like ChatBOT to automatically generate stories. Some of us are worried about "redundancy" as they put it in Britain, of no longer being needed. What do you know about chatbots? I bet it's more than you think!

Chatbot type programs are not new. The first one was invented all the way back in 1995 by Dr. Richard Wallace called ALICE. It is still in use today, and was the basis of Spike Jonez's movie "Her." It was the basis for all of the other programs you see everywhere on the internet when the little pop-up comes up and asks if you need help.

man researching on cellphone

These newer computer programs are written to understand natural language processing ("NLP") that have now evolved into virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, which are growing more and more sophisticated and able to recognize the differences in dialects and accents. So whether you are typing or voicing your question, the computer figures out what the heck you asked, then it searches through giant databases to find your answer.

So, if you think about it, the machines are learning, but humans are still doing the programming/teaching. As genealogists we are already reaping the benefits of Artificial Intelligence ("AI") and supercomputing. Every time you get a records hint, or a DNA match, it's because a computer program searched through a giant database and found something just for you, right? The mapping of the human genome was not possible before there were supercomputers that could search through millions of pieces of information! As a matter of fact, April 25 is DNA Day that celebrates the completed genome map in 2003 and the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953! Watch for concurrent DNA testing and learning sales at your favorite sites.

Colorized photo of family with old version

When you colorize old photos you are using AI. I uploaded a really old tree to MyHeritage yesterday and to try the AI Consistency Checker feature for the first time. Goodness! There are over 4700 people in it, and I have a hundred items to review including birth year typos, location defining commas between city, county, state (which it will fix for you), and a few silly things like the obituary date is after the death date. Well, I should hope so!

MyHeritage also has the "AI Time Machine" which seems kind of creepy, so I confess I have not yet tried it out.

FamilySearch is using AI since last year to decipher handwritten documents. They are scanning the documents and the computers are creating indexes, but they are far from perfect. They are looking for volunteers to go through and fix the items that the computer has flagged as problematic. If you'd like to check it out or help, I'll include a link at the bottom of this post.

The common and most important thread through all of these developments is the human component. Humans are doing the programming and the final analysis of the correctness of the data presented. I reject a lot of hints on all of the family tree programs, and I'm sure you do too. Apparently, I should have been a little more critical of those accepted on that old tree that will now preoccupy some of my time on MyHeritage!

We are the ones who are interpreting the data, asking the important questions, and adding the emotions to the stories to make them relatable. Genealogists need not fear redundancy yet!

Astronaut speaking to rebelling computer HAL
Keir Dullea in 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Star Trek TNG character Data
Brent Spiner as Data in Star Trek:TNG

Let's not fear the future, let's keep making it better by using it ourselves. Let's contribute to making more Data's from Star Trek, and no HAL's from 2001! There is a new private FB group dedicated to Genealogy and Artificial Intelligence that is exploring the possibilities we have before us.

Hope you had a lovely holiday weekend and got a chance to really visit with your family. Did you learn anything new? I was promised a new box of pictures, fingers crossed that comes through.

I'm here to help with your family tree questions or share in your discoveries. Please send me an email with the link below and let's talk.

Thank you,

Leslie Ryan

Family Search Get Involved:

(also more info at the free RootsTech library)

ALICE the first chatbot:

More info on useful/beneficial chatbots:

No compensation is received for any of these links or references. No copyright infringement is intended.


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