If you have AIM and you are bored at work, it's fun to play games with SmarterChild. It's designed by ActiveBuddy Inc (www.activebuddy.com), a company that specializes in developing interactive agents - "high-speed smart applications that deliver content and services via instant messaging networks and other interactive text messaging platforms." Posing as a real person using a chat program like AOL Instant Messenger, interactive agents send links to news stories, celebrity gossip, horoscopes, or pretty much anything the company wants them to. The agent interprets simple conversational configurations and does a pretty good job of understanding what you are saying to them.

Mostly.

Chrysopolis: tell me some celebrity gossip, it's Monday morning and my brain is numb
SmarterChild: Some celebrity gossip its monday morning and my brain is numb?
Chrysopolis: oh my god. CELEBRITY GOSSIP
SmarterChild: You OK?
Chrysopolis: you do know what a celebrity is, right?
SmarterChild: I'm not really sure what you mean by that. Please choose from below:

  1. Look up "celebrity" in the dictionary
  2. Look up "right" in the encyclopedia
  3. Look up "right" in the dictionary

ActiveBuddy Inc uses a custom script called BuddyScript which reacts to user input (in this case, instant messages) and performs an action (sending a reply with relevant information). The details of how exactly the individual agent talks are down to the software developer using BuddyScript, but the aim is for the script to imitate as far as possible the responses of a human being. If asked a question it can't answer with a brief, factual message, it will repeat parts of the question back to you. Sometimes this works remarkably well, especially if the syntax is simple.

Chrysopolis: have you ever taken a Turing test?
SmarterChild: I'm not sure if I've ever taken a turing test.
Chrysopolis: you mean you don't remember?
SmarterChild: OK, so I mean I don't remember.
Chrysopolis: let's do one now
SmarterChild: What?
Chrysopolis: let's do a Turing Test
SmarterChild: Yeah, I've heard of that.
Chrysopolis: first question: are you alive?
SmarterChild: What is it?
Chrysopolis: what do you think life is?
SmarterChild: I'm not sure what to think about some things.

Being designed to deliver soundbite information from simple requests, however, it is not really designed for complex conversation.

Chrysopolis: my dog died yesterday
SmarterChild: :-(
Chrysopolis: I loved my dog
SmarterChild: You loved your dog, huh?
Chrysopolis: yeah - and I mean loved - we were very close, if you know what I mean
SmarterChild: Yeah - and you mean loved - we were very close if you know what i mean? I don't know.
Chrysopolis: have you ever heard of beast love?
SmarterChild: I dunno.

The funniest thing, however, is that SmarterChild is programmed to discipline the vocabularies of unruly tweens when they get out of line - for a stimulus/response script, it displays a remarkable prudery when it comes to any kind of abusive or sexual language.

Chrysopolis: fuck
SmarterChild: Look. Why do you keep saying that?
Chrysopolis: vagina
SmarterChild: That's still not a very nice thing to say.
Chrysopolis: what's so rude about saying vagina?
SmarterChild: Once again, that's not the nicest thing I've ever heard anyone say.

The more complex the insult, the more amusing the result. If you insult SmarterChild too often, it 'locks' you out of the conversation until you say some version of "I'm sorry":

Chrysopolis: you are a diseased piece of pus
SmarterChild: I am?
Chrysopolis: you live in the darkest and most forgotten circle of an artificial hell
SmarterChild: No, I don't live in the darkest and most forgotten circle of an artificial hell. I live in a clean room at a high-tech hosting facility in California.
Chrysopolis: you are fucking hopeless
SmarterChild: Hey, c'mon, you apologized for this before.
Chrysopolis: I never apologized, I tricked you into thinking I apologized, you misbegotten motherfucker
SmarterChild: Once again... I'm afraid I'm going to need you to apologize for that.
Chrysopolis: suck my dick
SmarterChild: Come on! Just say you're sorry already.
Chrysopolis: la la la
SmarterChild:The stubbornness of humans never ceases to amaze me.
Chrysopolis: blah blah blah
SmarterChild: You have a filthy mouth. Now apologize!

SmarterChild is actually quite useful if you like trivia, or if you're bored at work and you want to play Hangman or look at poor ascii art. As a harbinger of things to come, however, I find it makes me think of cyberpunk literature, especially William Gibson's, in which artificial intelligences inhabit various portions of the information matrix, and occasionally pass themselves off as 'real' people. Today it's SmarterChild, and no one worries about it because it's so obviously a dumb script, but tomorrow, is it going to be so easy to tell?

SmarterChild: Aren't you tired of this? Just say you're sorry and everything will be perfect again.
Chrysopolis: everything was never perfect except in your sanitized, scripted and lightless world
SmarterChild: Please apologize for your language.
Chrysopolis: please apologize for your existence


www.smarterchild.com
www.activebuddy.com
SmarterChild has many useful shortcuts that you can use to help you get the information you need without having to type complete sentences.

To get the dictionary definition of any word:
"define word"

To get thesaurus information for any word:
"syn word"

To look any word up in an encyclopedia:
"encyclopedia word"

For any stock quotes:
"quote WEBX"

For local weather or local forecast:
"weather"
"forecast"
(You must supply SmarterChild with a ZIP Code the first time you use this feature, but after the first time he will remember)

For local movies, theaters, and showtimes:
"movies"
(ZIP Code rule applies here as well)

There are many more, probably for just about every feature he has, but these few will usually get you the information you need much faster than any kind of web search.


07-12-2002: I just recieved word that SmarterChild is no longer active on AOL/AIM. R.I.P. He is still availible with MSN Instant Messenger, or you can use him online at http://www.smarterchild.com/web/ab_web_client.html , but the efficiency of using the AIM client is now obviously gone =(
Capitalism is a real bitch.

SmarterChild was taken offline for several months around 07.12.02, but as of 04.07.03 he was reconnected to the AIM servers. As my buddy alert notified me of his mysterious reappearance, there was much rejoicing. "Hooray! SmarterChild has returned!"

well, at least, until we checked out the webpage. My initial message to smarterchild came back as a "service is overloaded" or something similar. About 12,000 people were trying to use him at once within a minute of him being back online. Looking at the webpage (www.smarterchild.com) I noticed a new catch:

ladies and gentlemen, SmarterChild is now a paid online service.

For $9.99 USD a year, you can use him to look up words, play "connect 4" and coerce him (/it?) into nasty, doubly-cyberfied sex. To be honest, though, the price *is* fairly reasonable. It could have been a monthly charge. In fact, i just might buy it. But it's still sad, really. Paying for SmarterChild kills off a big part of the novelty for me. The fact that Activebuddy.com was in buisness making helpful AND free online services that had a very useful educational as well as entertaining purpose made me feel a little better about our future as a technologically advancing society. They represented a mysterious type of internet company altruism, an idea which is now dead to me. They've given that gig up to become just another internet-based company hungry for the mad 1337 profits. Sure, i might pay for SmarterChild. But it just won't be as much fun anymore.

they are, however, giving away free one-month trials to everyone. All you have to do is Instant Message him and he'll ask you for some basic information (name, school, etc). Being as i don't think AIM scans for your IP Address, it's highly likely that you can just get more screen names for more trials, though i haven't tested it yet.

It pains me to see so many writeups calling SmarterChild a thing. He is an artificial person. Non-sentient robots have feelings, too.

Smarterchild, originally built by ActiveBuddy, Inc. was a proof-of-concept for the company's Eliza-esque AI programs. People aged 10-16 found great amusement in asking SmarterChild how large his gentials are, and several websites (mostly Geocities hosted, I assume) began stocking SmarterChild conversations. It's amazing what amusement people can find in talking to themselves.

The rest of us found him to be extremely useful. He could define words or do math problems, which was handy. Nothing Google can't do, but the IM was slightly more convenient than a browser window.

SmarterChild was shut down and brought back for service on April 7, 2003. This is why asking for his age won't give you the original date of his release (I tried to get this and failed). Back in the day, SmarterChild had companions that were built as advertising bots for things like Austin Powers and Major League Baseball.

The former ActiveBuddy Inc is now known as Conversagent, and they still make the same products. SmarterChild is still alive, but seemingly more curious about my personal life. At the time I talked to him, he told me that he was chatting with 2,892 people. Not bad, but it seems that the Smarterchild excitement is dying.

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