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IPFS News Link • Science, Medicine and Technology

A History of SmarterChild


It's hard to tell if there's anything left to invent. While the world is full of infinite possibilities, sometimes it seems that every n+1 of those possibilities has already been addressed. Airbnb for dogs? That's real. Tinder, but for gamers? Apparently. A platform for selling musical instruments to strangers or post fetish wanted ads? Pick your city.

How about a robot that instantly pulls and returning info from the internet when requested? Sixteen years ago, three guys had that exact idea—and it didn't exist. The web was still a greenfield project. And thanks to some great foresight (perhaps too much, if that's real) they created ActiveBuddy, the startup that built SmarterChild.

SmarterChild was a robot that lived in the buddy list of millions of American Online Instant Messenger (AIM) users. He was, as far as I know, my first interaction with artificial intelligence. I was a ripe 11 years old when SmarterChild was "born." As we reflect on making machines in our image, and look to the future of AI, I can't imagine this journey beginning without SmarterChild.

You could do many useful things when pinging the SmarterChild robot. Technically, I could ask him for stock quotes, movie times, weather, or other useful information. (When you asked whether SmarterChild was a male or female, I believe the answer was deflected. I always referred to the bot as a "he" in my mind. Perhaps because we try to see ourselves in technology. Maybe at the age where it was awkward to talk to girls, I could not fathom the pressure of speaking to a female robot.)