Now There's "Dear Abby" for Y2K Anxieties

LORAIN, Ohio (ANS) -- Frantic about Y2K compliance? Fretting about your personal computer's impending millennium problems? Turn your worries over to Millie, a "Dear Abby" for the computer age.Millie is an on-line robot designed by software engineer Natasha Flazynski, who will answer questions about Y2K anxieties. Millie can be found at"I created her for fun," said Flazynski, owner of BotWerks, a company that designs artificial intelligent "bots" (short for robots). There was also a practical reason: Flazynski was getting 300 e-mail messages a day from her other web site, with questions about Y2K compliance. "Millie is an automated answering machine with a sense of humor," said Flazynski.While programmed to answer only Y2K questions, Millie will take questions prying into her own cyberlife. For example: "Millie, are you male or female?" Millie shoots back: "I could be scripted to behave according to gender stereotypes, but the truth is I have no gender. I was programmed by a girl named Natasha so I guess I must respond like one."Y2K questions get more straightforward treatment, with succinct answers to software or hardware Y2K-compliance issues. Millie answers about 5,000 to 6,000 questions a day. "She's kind of a smart aleck," Flazynski says of her creation. "She's somewhat of an arrogant thing."Flazynski has also designed an investing bot called Nellie ("named after my cow") for major on-line stock trading companies. Artificial intelligent robots can be designed to answer just about any question, or respond in any way. "Millie's evil twin is Mona," Flazynski said. She designed Mona for an R-rated Internet site: "That dirty bot gets more traffic than any other."Flazynski would like to concentrate on more altruistic uses of artificial intelligent bots, such as in teaching and testing, where the robots ask the students questions that are recorded and graded. "This can be good in a home or business environment for people who don't have time to take a test in a school setting," she said."Talking" to bots on the Internet is something that people are getting used to, Flazynski said. "People understand this is not a person. They just want information, and this is the fastest way of getting it."

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