“What is art, Clev?”
“Art is patterns intelligent creatures enjoy.”
“Are you an intelligent creature?”
“Do you like to eat cake?”
I sighed, exasperated, and suppressed the impulse to fire back a non sequitur of my own. I was talking to Cleverbot, an AI that (as procrastinators everywhere know) is easily accessible on the Internet; I wasn’t procrastinating, exactly, but I had just finished Louisa Hall’s Speak, a novel that consists in part of a series of conversations between a child named Gaby and a bot called MARY3. Speak reads like a blend of Isaac Asimov, Mary Shelley, and Virginia Woolf, and I was curious about the real-life equivalents of Hall’s eloquent bots. While I hadn’t expected Clev to pass for human—even I, who read less science writing than science-fiction, know we’re...