The dog did my homework: 'Muttbot' answers simple queries, solves math equations

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com
The dog did my homework: 'Muttbot' answers simple queries, solves math equations
Stock photo featuring woman and her Pomeranian
Photo credits: pressfoto via Freepik

MANILA, Philippines — Meet Muttbot, the “very goodboi” who knows next-level tricks that can help his owners.

He might not know how to sit, shake hands or roll over, but this dog knows how to search for mathematical concepts, compute various expressions and review by playing a simple math mini-game.

Muttbot: the Math Chatbot, also known as Matt the Mutt, is waiting for you on Telegram (@muttchatbot).

Philstar.com spoke to the team that developed Muttbot, consisting of Roberto Bañadera Jr., Rhey Ann Magcalas, Danilo Gubaton Jr., Fili Emerson Chua and mentor Ricardo Alindayu II to learn more about their “pet project.”

The birth of Muttbot

According to the team, they met through a data science bootcamp in the Philippines called “Eskwelabs,” where they worked and studied through the three-month program.

“During the program, we had the chance to create and deploy a chatbot and that is how we met our mentor Ric who helped us during the whole process. A fun fact about the team is that we actually never met in person since all of our classes were done online. Hopefully, we get a chance to convene once things normalize,” the team said.

The 4th sprint of said the bootcamp tackled topics like Natural Language Processing (NLP) and web scraping. It was then that the team’s instructor Albert Yumol proposed that they work on a project for social good.

The initial idea was to help students with a limited internet connection by creating and deploying chatbots that covered topics like mathematics, science, geography and Philippine history. The group showed great interest in working on this socially-relevant project.

Thus, Matt was born.

Each sprint project in the bootcamp spanned two weeks, which includes learning the data science and machine learning topics, as well as creating the respective sprint project. The team was able to finish the initial creation and deployment of Muttbot in Telegram in November 2020. Recently, they found extra time to make the chatbot fully available online for public use.

The puppy years

The chatbot's "upbringing" was fairly pleasant even though the team did not receive any funding or external support for the project. They said this was possible because they were able to utilize open-source tools to build it. 

“A lot of tools similar to what we’ve used are available online for free so it’s easy for learners and hobbyists to utilize for upskilling and building various passion projects.”

Muttbot grew up surrounded by many parents and guardians.

“While doing the project, the team did not have a lot of obstacles creating the chatbot since we had a lot of support from the amazing community of Eskwelabs including our instructors, mentors and co-fellows,” the team recalled.

New dog, new tricks

The chatbot’s “mathemagical” tricks are backed by concrete science.

The team primarily used Python programming language for the project. Other tools they used include spaCy and APIs with Telegram and Wikipedia.

Its three main tricks are search, compute and play.

  • Search: Helps users search for answers to their questions online, e.g. Who is Archimedes?
  • Compute: Helps users calculate mathematical equations like a regular calculator
  • Play: Provides a gamified reviewing platform for the users to test their math skills

Pet peeves

Muttbot isn’t perfect, however. Theoretically, a user should be able to ask the chatbot a wide range of questions since it is based on Wikipedia.

“However, a point of improvement for Muttbot is to understand more complex questions that the users might ask. There might also be some bugs that users may encounter along the way, but our lines are always open for us to fix the possible future bugs,” the team said.

They still plan on improving the chatbot to include more exciting and useful features. This includes consolidating all the notable features from other chatbots developed by teams with great results, as well as making Muttbot available and accessible offline for learners who lack a stable internet connection.

Service dog

“We hope that Muttbot will be relevant to students, teachers and even learners outside the classroom...the project will hopefully be relevant to more people especially given the learning setup during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the team said.

Matt is actually a Pomeranian dog by Peri Priatna available from Freepik.

He is a dog by design, not coincidence. The team decided to have a dog as the chatbot’s icon because they thought that a companion while learning offers significant help, especially during virtual learning in the time of the pandemic.

This choice was inspired in part by the team being huge friends and owners to furry companions.

Lessons learned

The team behind Muttbot’s main message for people who are interested in entering the data science industry, including information technology and computer science students, is to commit to being a “lifelong learner.”

“As long as you have the passion to learn, you will be able to pursue various projects of interest,” the team said.

In fact, two of Muttbot’s parents have little to no experience in programming prior to the bootcamp.

“Just remember that with the multitudes of topics available to learn, you should be aware that we all start from somewhere to avoid being overwhelmed. Even when faced with roadblocks, you should still keep on pushing.”

The team encouraged people to actively promote change by pursuing much-needed projects and banding together with others who similarly have noble visions.

“We urge everyone who has the means to pursue passion projects and join organizations for social good in the hopes that by doing so, we can continue making ripples of changes to help better the country.”


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