Facebook has launched the largest ever open-domain chatbot, called Blender, which it claims is able to demonstrate empathy, knowledge and personality and is better than ones created by rival Google.

AI Research (FAIR), Facebook’s AI and machine learning division, has detailed work on a comprehensive AI chatbot framework.

Blender was trained using available public domain conversations which included 1.5 billion examples of human exchanges on popular community forum Reddit.

The social media giant said 49% of people preferred interactions with the chatbot, compared with another human.

FAIR claims that Blender, which is available in open source on GitHub, is the largest-ever open-domain chatbot and outperforms existing approaches to generating dialogue while “feel[ing] more human,” according to human evaluators.

FAIR says Blender is the culmination of years of research to combine empathy, knowledge, and personality into one system. To this end, the underlying models — which benefit from improved decoding and skill blending techniques — contain up to 9.4 billion parameters (configuration variables that define skill on a given problem), or 3.6 times more than previous systems.

But experts say training the artificial intelligence (AI) using a platform such as Reddit has its drawbacks.

Numerous issues arose during longer conversations. Blender would sometimes respond with offensive language, and at other times it would make up facts altogether.

Researchers said they hoped further models would address some of these issues.

"We believe that releasing models is essential to enable full, reliable insights into their capabilities," a Facebook spokesperson said.

View a sample conversation here:

Facebook also compared Blender's performance with the latest version of Google's own chatbot, Meena.

It showed people two sets of conversations, one made with Blender and the other with Meena. Conversations included a wide range of topics including movies, music and veganism. Facebook said that 67% of respondents thought Blender sounded more human than Meena.

"We achieved this milestone through a new chatbot recipe that includes improved decoding techniques, novel blending of skills, and a model with 9.4 billion parameters, which is 3.6x more than the largest existing system.

"This is the first chatbot to blend a diverse set of conversational skills together in one system."

"Building a truly intelligent dialogue agent that can chat like a human remains one of the largest open challenges in AI today."

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