Quantum Bayesian Networks

January 21, 2018

Life in the time of the Bayesian Wars: Clippy Strikes Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 7:42 pm

You can now add Clippy to any website, with his full panoply of adorable responses.


(Thanks to Gavin Dekant for pointing this website to us.) First lines of website:

Add Clippy or his friends to any website for instant nostalgia. Our research shows that people love two things: failed Microsoft technologies and obscure Javascript libraries. Naturally, we decided to combine the two.

So what does this have to do with Bayesian Networks?

In a previous blog post, I linked to a 1996 newspaper article that quotes Bill Gates revealing his strong interest in Bayesian Networks. But I didn’t mention in that blog post that this was not just a platonic love affair with Bnets which never went any further. By 1996, Gates was already actively channeling his love of B nets into backing real MS products, such as the Lumiere project, which brought to the world the first office assistant, in Office 97. Nowadays, Alexa, Siri, Google’s Office Assistant and Cortana are well known, commonplace office assistants, but MS was there first. Sadly, but characteristically, MS has fumbled the OA ball since then, and today, Cortana ranks last in usage among the big 4 OA’s. In fact, Cortana is almost dead today, now that MS has all but pulled out of the mobile phone OS and hardware businesses.

Next, I want to say more about the Lumiere project, a project remarkable for its great foresight, technical prowess and creativity, and for its instructive, amusing history with a dramatic, poignant ending.

Here is a nice article which backs up much of the history that I will recount next:

The Lumiere project: The origins and science behind Microsoft’s Office Assistant By Awesome-o | August 31, 2009

The office assistant created by the Lumiere project and first offered by MS in Office 97 was called Clippy. Clippy predicted its user’s next moves and needs so poorly that Office users soon started to hate and dread it, so much so that MS decided to turn it off starting with Office 2007. So poor Clippy was born about 20 years ago and he was killed when he was 10 years old.

Microsoft’s Lumiere project, headed by Eric Horovitz, produced the first in-house versions of Clippy, based on Bayesian Networks. This original Clippy learned from the user, it was trainable, so it was truly Bayesian. By all accounts, it worked really well. However, for the commercial version that appeared in Office 97 and thereafter, upper management insisted that the Bayesian heart of Clippy be replaced by a rule based system that could not learn from the user. The reason Clippy was crippled was not out of palace intrigue or corporate malice but simply that Office 97 already occupied too much space and the Office designers had to choose between including a full fledged Clippy or including some new, mundane word processing features, but not both, and they chose the latter. Hence, the original, by many accounts brilliant Clippy, was lobotomized before it was first released to the public.

But it gets better. Because of the Clippy fiasco, many people in 2007 considered the idea of an office assistant that could be trained by the user to be an impossible dream. How wrong they were! Look at the present. OA’s have not gone away. They keep getting better and more ubiquitous.

And, Clippy is back!

Bayesianism will never die. Author Sharon McGrayne has the same opinion and has written a wonderful popular science book explaining why:

“The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy”, by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne


1 Comment »

  1. I highly recommend the dog avatar, much less annoying than Clippy. It’s hard to get mad at a dog even a poorly animated one.

    Comment by Quax — January 21, 2018 @ 10:29 pm

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