As many of you may recall, a few weeks back Loonytunes treated us to a sample of the 'Thinking Computer', which you could converse with. I became curious about the man behind the program, Jason Hutchens, so I contacted him with a few questions and here is what he had to say...
In December he submitted his PhD thesis, and he immediately set off to London for a break before settling down to work. London is a great hub for Australian travellers who want to see a bit of Europe, and the general plan is to work for a short while in order to fund weekend jaunts to Spain, Italy, France and so on. He put his resume on the web, and was fortunate enough to be offered a position at 'Lionhead Studios' a few days later. He is now working there, on a computer game called 'BlackandWhite', which really is incredibly fun. If you're interested, have a look at the Web Site.
He has never actually been anywhere too exotic, unlike friends who have backpacked through Nepal, Indonesia and so on. He has been to Ireland, London, Wales, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome, Switzerland, Hamburg, Southern France, New York, San Francisco, and many of the Australian capital cities. His favourite spot on the planet, from what he has seen, would have to be the Southwest of Western Australia, from Margaret River down to Pemberton. The beaches are sensational, the weather is consistently perfect, and the wineries produce some of the best Australian wine.
When asked how he came up with the idea for the Thinking Computer, he said that in High School he enjoyed playing text adventure games on the Commodore 64, and was fascinated enough to write a few of his own in Basic. He remembers dreaming up ambitious ideas for creating an NPC when he was on holiday in 1988, and guesses that things took off from there. Once he hit University he would design 'Markov-model' inspired chat bot programs during boring lectures and, when he heard about the Loebner Contest, he started concentrating more on writing these sorts of programs.
He will be returning to Perth in mid-2000, where he will start working with a few mates from University in a company called Amristar, which they established, half-way through 1999. One of the things they plan to do is develop and release a much-improved version of 'MegaHAL', which can be easily interfaced to web sites, ICQ, IRC and so on.
He enjoys taking a few moments during the day to enjoy a nice relaxing drink. His choices include 'Double Espresso' (or even 'Quad Espresso') in the mornings, 'Long Macchiatto' in the afternoons, 'Jasmine Tea' with Chinese food, 'Lapsang Souchong' after dinner, and 'English Breakfast Tea' on late weekend mornings. Always black and without sugar, apart from strong teas when he takes a little bit of each to offset the bitterness. When it came to drinks with a bit more 'kick' to them he enjoys a well made 'Bloody Mary', 'Gin and Tonic', 'Dry and Dry', 'Whisky and Coke' and so on, with snacks after a hard day at work. Down the pub you'll find him drinking pints of 'Guinness', 'Newcastle Brown' (which they have on-tap in Australia), or, if it happens to be a summery Sunday, arvo in the beer garden, 'Stella Artois'. Before dinner he likes an 'Amontillado Sherry' or a nice dry, nutty 'Sparkling Wine'. With dinner it's wine all the way, he is especially fond of the home-grown product. Afterwards a nice glass of vintage port never goes astray! (I don't know about you but he sounds like many of the researchers in our forums)(There sure is a lot of drinking mentioned here yes! Ed.)
I asked him about his favourite charities and he replied with a chuckle by telling me he does not have any because he is a mean old '******'. In his spare time he enjoys programming the Sony Playstation, travelling, learning to play the piano, launching rockets, brewing ale, cooking, flying dual-wire stunt kites and mountain biking. (Sounds to me as if he has a full plate and is intent on enjoying life !)
If you would like to visit Jason Hutchens at his website you can find him here