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Technical Issues


Programming a fully functional Eliza Robot is not easy, but it should not be too hard to produce a nice ``doll'' once you (a) grasped the way Ken's Bot work, (b) you learned how to write simple regular expressions and (c) you played around with some Eliza Bots or read some texts about them.

Basic operation


This is a slightly edited version from 'help bot'.gif

Adding A Word For Your Bot To Respond To:

To see what words your bot already responds to type 'seewords botname'. To teach your bot to respond to 'donut' with either 'I like donuts too.' or 'Donuts are very tasty!' just type '@addword botname' and enter the keyword 'donut'. Then enter the appropriate responses a line at a time. End with a single period on a line by itself.

Don't try to build a large list of simple word matching patterns, but rather study how to work with patterns


Suppose you wished your bot to hear something like

   and respond with 
   To do this you must teach your bot to respond to the pattern 
       MY a ISN'T VERY b.
To understand what patterns look like, type 'seepat botname' and study the examples. For additional assistance on understanding the syntax of patterns see the next section 6.3.1. When you think you are ready to add a pattern type
  @addpat botname' and enter the following line when asked to do so: 
       my %(%w*%) isn't very %(.*%)
   Then type in the response form:
       What's so great about a %2 %1?
Add as many response forms as you wish on separate lines. End with a period on a single line.

Adding random Responses:

These responses are triggered whenever your bot can't find a keyword, a pattern, or a question. To see the responses already programmed type:
'seerandoms botname'.
To add a new random response type:
'addrandom botname' and enter a new response.


When your bot senses a question is being asked it responds with a random 'answer'. To see the random question responses already programmed into your bot type 'seequestionresponses botname'. To add a new response type 'addquestionresponse botname'.

Removing and moving patterns

Caution: This bot was designed for serious educational and experimental purposes. It makes an excellent 'guide' or 'tutor' and is an interesting vehicle for the study of the limits of language understanding using an 'Eliza' approach. BUT.. it has great spam potential since it responds to nearly everything it hears. 'Hush botname' when not needed and please be considerate of others around you ..

Finally, as always ``@examine <bot>'' to see the full list of verbs !

Regular Expressions


Ken's Turing Bot works with regular expressions as mentionned above. It is probably best to learn by example and then try out more complex patterns by learning how to use regular expressions.

Regular expressions are similar in most programming languages and fancy editors:

So, building a nice Turing bot is a good exercise for learning regexps which come very handy when you write Perl scripts or if you want to do fancy text processing with an editor. Here is the complete syntax for regular expressions:

Regular expression matching allows you to test whether a string fits into a specific syntactic shape. You can also search a string for a substring that fits a pattern. See also the built-in function match()/rmatch().

A regular expression describes a set of strings. The simplest case is one that describes a particular string; for example, the string `foo' when regarded as a regular expression matches `foo' and nothing else. Nontrivial regular expressions use certain special constructs so that they can match more than one string. For example, the regular expression `foo%|bar' matches either the string `foo' or the string `bar'; the regular expression `c[ad]*r' matches any of the strings `cr', `car', `cdr', `caar', `cadddar' and all other such strings with any number of `a''s and `d''s.

Regular expressions have a syntax in which a few characters are special constructs and the rest are "ordinary". An ordinary character is a simple regular expression that matches that character and nothing else. The special characters are `$', `^', `.', `*', `+', `?', `[', `]' and `%'. Any other character appearing in a regular expression is ordinary, unless a `%' precedes it.

For example, `f' is not a special character, so it is ordinary, and therefore `f' is a regular expression that matches the string `f' and no other string. (It does *not*, for example, match the string `ff'.) Likewise, `o' is a regular expression that matches only `o'.

Any two regular expressions A and B can be concatenated. The result is a regular expression which matches a string if A matches some amount of the beginning of that string and B matches the rest of the string.

As a simple example, we can concatenate the regular expressions `f' and `o' to get the regular expression `fo', which matches only the string `fo'. Still trivial.

The following are the characters and character sequences that have special meaning within regular expressions. Any character not mentioned here is not special; it stands for exactly itself for the purposes of searching and matching.

is a special character that matches any single character. Using concatenation, we can make regular expressions like `a.b', which matches any three-character string that begins with `a' and ends with `b'.

is not a construct by itself; it is a suffix that means that the preceding regular expression is to be repeated as many times as possible. In `fo*', the `*' applies to the `o', so `fo*' matches `f' followed by any number of `o''s.

The case of zero `o''s is allowed: `fo*' does match `f'.

`*' always applies to the *smallest* possible preceding expression. Thus, `fo*' has a repeating `o', not a repeating `fo'.

The matcher processes a `*' construct by matching, immediately, as many repetitions as can be found. Then it continues with the rest of the pattern. If that fails, it backtracks, discarding some of the matches of the `*''d construct in case that makes it possible to match the rest of the pattern. For example, matching `c[ad]*ar' against the string `caddaar', the `[ad]*' first matches `addaa', but this does not allow the next `a' in the pattern to match. So the last of the matches of `[ad]' is undone and the following `a' is tried again. Now it succeeds.

Let's have a look at an example from Ken's Bot:

   it's %(.*%)
The .* will match any chain of characters. E.g. this pattern would match something like:
   it's time now
   it's spring
but it would not match something like:
   I tell you it's time now
a pattern like this would:
   .* it's .*
See below for what the %(.. %) expression does in addition.

is like `*' except that at least one match for the preceding pattern is required for `+'. Thus, `c[ad]r'+ does not match `cr' but does match anything else that `c[ad]*r' would match.

is like `*' except that it allows either zero or one match for the preceding pattern. Thus, `c[ad]?r' matches `cr' or `car' or `cdr', and nothing else.

character set:
`[... ]'
`[' begins a "character set", which is terminated by a `]'. In the simplest case, the characters between the two brackets form the set. Thus, `[ad]' matches either `a' or `d', and `[ad]*' matches any string of `a''s and `d''s (including the empty string), from which it follows that `c[ad]*r' matches `car', etc.

Character ranges can also be included in a character set, by writing two characters with a `-' between them. Thus, `[a-z]' matches any lower-case letter. Ranges may be intermixed freely with individual characters, as in `[a-z$%.]', which matches any lower case letter or `$', `%' or period.

Note that the usual special characters are not special any more inside a character set. A completely different set of special characters exists inside character sets: `]', `-' and `^'.

To include a `]' in a character set, you must make it the first character. For example, `[]a]' matches `]' or `a'. To include a `-', you must use it in a context where it cannot possibly indicate a range: that is, as the first character, or immediately after a range.

character exclusion:
`[^ ... ]'
`[^' begins a "complement character set", which matches any character except the ones specified. Thus, `[^a-z0-9A-Z]' matches all characters *except* letters and digits.

`^' is not special in a character set unless it is the first character. The character following the `^' is treated as if it were first (it may be a `-' or a `]').

`^' is a special character that matches the empty string - but only if at the beginning of the string being matched. Otherwise it fails to match anything. Thus, `^foo' matches a `foo' which occurs at the beginning of the string.

is similar to `^' but matches only at the *end* of the string. Thus, `xx*$' matches a string of one or more `x''s at the end of the string.

has two functions: it quotes the above special characters (including `%'), and it introduces additional special constructs.

Because `%' quotes special characters, `%$' is a regular expression that matches only `$', and `%[' is a regular expression that matches only `[', and so on.

For the most part, `%' followed by any character matches only that character. However, there are several exceptions: characters that, when preceded by `%', are special constructs. Such characters are always ordinary when encountered on their own.

No new special characters will ever be defined. All extensions to the regular expression syntax are made by defining new two-character constructs that begin with `%'.

specifies an alternative. Two regular expressions A and B with `%|' in between form an expression that matches anything that either A or B will match.

Thus, `foo%|bar' matches either `foo' or `bar' but no other string.

`%|' applies to the largest possible surrounding expressions. Only a surrounding `%( ... %)' grouping can limit the grouping power of `%|'.

Full backtracking capability exists for when multiple `%|''s are used.

`\%( ... \%)'
is a grouping construct that serves three purposes:

1. To enclose a set of `%|' alternatives for other operations. Thus, `%(foo%|bar%)x' matches either `foox' or `barx'.

2. To enclose a complicated expression for a following `*', `+', or `?' to operate on. Thus, `ba%(na%)*' matches `bananana', etc., with any number of `na''s, including none.

3. To mark a matched substring for future reference.

This last application is not a consequence of the idea of a parenthetical grouping; it is a separate feature that happens to be assigned as a second meaning to the same `%( ... %)' construct because there is no conflict in practice between the two meanings. Here is an explanation of this feature:

After the end of a `%( ... %)' construct, the matcher remembers the beginning and end of the text matched by that construct. Then, later on in the regular expression, you can use `%' followed by DIGIT to mean "match the same text matched by the DIGIT'+th `%( ... %)' construct in the pattern." The `%( ... %)' constructs are numbered in the order that their `%(''s appear in the pattern.

The strings matching the first nine `%( ... %)' constructs appearing in a regular expression are assigned numbers 1 through 9 in order of their beginnings. `%1' through `%9' may be used to refer to the text matched by the corresponding `%( ... %)' construct.

For example, `%(.*%)%1' matches any string that is composed of two identical halves. The `%(.*%)' matches the first half, which may be anything, but the `%1' that follows must match the same exact text.

Let's look at an example from Ken's Bot:

   1   your %(.*%)
           my %1? Why do you wish to know?
           I would rather not discuss my '%1' if it's allright with you...
           Tell me yours first!
   7   %(%w*%) is %(.*%)
            Suppose %1 were not %2? What then?
            What is so %2 about %1?
            %1? how so?
The first element in each pattern is matched against the input and the other elements are possible replies using the matched pattern.

matches the empty string, but only if it is at the beginning or end of a word. Thus, `%bfoo%b' matches any occurrence of `foo' as a separate word. `%bball%(s%|%)%b' matches `ball' or `balls' as a separate word.

For the purposes of this construct and the five that follow, a word is defined to be a sequence of letters and/or digits.

matches the empty string, provided it is *not* at the beginning or end of a word.

matches the empty string, but only if it is at the beginning of a word.

matches the empty string, but only if it is at the end of a word.

matches any word-constituent character (i.e., any letter or digit).

matches any character that is not a word constituent.

You can look at a short text in french that summarizes regular expressions.

A note about regexps in emacs and perl. Please remember that the ``%'' is replaced by the ``\'' !

Replacing complex patterns in emacs is a good way to learn regular expressions. Take a random text and start playing around. Example:

M-x query-replace-regexp
would replace a pattern like this:
Note that ctrl_ will undo changes so you can retry and also that Meta-P and Meta-N will allow to edit previous arguments in the M-x query-replace-regexp dialog.

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Next: Conceptual Issues Up: 6.3 Ken's Turing Robot Previous: 6.3 Ken's Turing Robot

Daniel K. Schneider
Thu Apr 17 12:43:52 MET DST 1997