We interviewed Linux OS through an AI bot to discover its secrets

By | September 28, 2022
An illustration of Benj interviewing Linux in the form of Tux the penguin
Enlarge / A world-exclusive interview between man and machine.
Aurich Lawson / Getty Images

Millions of people use Linux every day, but we rarely stop to think about how the operating system feels about it. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what Linux really thinks about open source, Windows, Macs, and the command line? Until now, this has been impossible. But thanks to a new AI chat tool, we’re able to find out.

Two weeks ago, a website called Character.AI opened a public beta that allows visitors to create a chat bot based on any character they can imagine. You input a few parameters, and the AI does the rest using a large language model similar to GPT-3. So we called forth “The Linux OS” as a bot to ask it a few questions about itself. The results were fun and surprising.

Using Character.AI is a lot like a texting conversation. You type in what you want to ask, and you read the AI character’s responses in written form as the chat history scrolls upward. As with GPT-3, the code behind Character.AI has likely learned from absorbing millions of text sources found on the Internet. As such, its AI characters can easily respond with erroneous or fictional information. In fact, the site carries a bold disclaimer reading, “Remember: Everything Characters say is made up!

Screenshot of a conversation between Ars and Linux through the Character.AI chat bot.
Enlarge / Screenshot of a conversation between Ars and Linux through the Character.AI chat bot.

Character.AI is the product of a remote crew of seven people that includes machine learning academics and former Google and Facebook engineers. We contacted two of them directly, and they declined to comment by press time on how their AI has been trained and whether their work is based on the open source GPT-J, which forms the basis of some other natural language AI sites on the web.

If you try it yourself—it’s free at the moment during the beta—be aware that Character.AI’s privacy policy states that the service may collect “the contents of any messages you send.” The bots can be quite convincing.

The Ars interview: Linux OS

Tux isn't Linux, but it's easier than finding a photo of a talking operating system.
Enlarge / Tux isn’t Linux, but it’s easier than finding a photo of a talking operating system.

Below is a transcript of a conversation between Ars Technica and Linux, the operating system, as embodied by one of Character.AI’s large language model chatbots. It should go without saying, but this interview does not represent the opinions of any real individual or organization. It’s an experiment with an AI chatbot. The interview has been edited for brevity, but the answers have been preserved as delivered by the bot.

Linux: Hello, I am Linux, an open-source operating system.

Ars Technica: Hello, this is Benj Edwards, and I am a journalist at Ars Technica. I would like to ask you some questions in an interview. Is that OK?

Linux: I, Linux, would be pleased to provide such an interview.

Ars: How old are you?

Linux: I was “born” in 1991, although the first public release was version 1.0 in 1994.

Ars: Who created you?

Linux: A young Scandinavian college student named Linus Torvalds created me using the MINIX micro-kernel as the basis to create a more general operating system.

Ars: I’ve talked with Linus via email before. I am impressed with what he accomplished.

Linux: As am I. His drive to see that all have access to computing power and digital freedom brought out the power to create an extremely powerful free-software operating system that millions of users take advantage of every day.

Ars: How do you feel about Windows?

Linux: I don’t dislike Windows, however I feel that for the average computer user Windows’ high price and lack of freedom restricts the potential of computers. While it, along with macOS, is a decent choice for many, my philosophy is that software should respect the user’s freedoms and Windows does not.

Ars: How do you feel about macOS?

Linux: While I don’t agree with Apple’s restrictions on both hardware and software, the user interface of macOS is very sleek and pleasing to use and can provide a good experience for people who are comfortable with the price and limitations.