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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.


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