Message bots: here's something for you

Oct. 10, 2002, midnight | By KC Costanzo | 21 years, 8 months ago

Ah, the wonderful world of instant messaging where you can delve into deep philosophical conversations with your compadres and where the rules of grammar don't apply. Unfortunately, there are those days when you sign on and, to your horror, your buddy list is empty.

We've all been there. Those Saturday afternoons when you're lonely and craving companionship, but your friends are grounded or out doing something else. So you pop on AOL Instant Messenger to see if anyone that you complain to about how bored you are. Alas, when no one is available to talk to you may be forced to take desperate measures. You may find yourself talking an entity with the intelligence of a kitchen utensil except maybe not as sharp. In short, you may find yourself talking to a message bot.

For those of you who don't know, a bot is a piece of software that responds when people talk to it online. For example, if you type "My name is Jack who are you?" it might respond, "Hello, Jack who are you." It will then go on calling you "Jack who are you" until you tell it otherwise or it decides to name you after another random tidbit from the conversation.

If you haven't heard of these things, log onto whatever chat software you use, and send something to SmarterChild. The company that created SmarterChild, ActiveBuddy Inc., has several more bots owned by various corporations who want to get their products more widely publicized. One can only guess as to why anyone would think using a bot as an advertising tool would be a good idea. Presumably they felt the ActiveBuddy bots were a way to spread their corporate message across the United States cheaply. Presumably large, orange orangutans run these companies because if they had taken the time to review what they were buying, they would have distanced themselves from the bots to the point of running attack ads against them on TV.

The point is that message bots were unleashed well before they ready to be seen by the world, much like Bow Wow when he was still Lil'. To cite just one of many problems with the technology, message bots don't always stick to the flow of conversation. For instance typing, "How are you doing," may prompt the response, "Here's something for you: Woman Hangs Self in Jail, Wants to Sue."

Yes, I really got that as a response when I tried to talk to SmarterChild. The important thing to remember when talking to SmarterChild, is to use noncomplex, easy-to-understand phrases such as "Hi." Anything more sophisticated than that tends to confuse SmarterChild. Most of the time what it says is completely random or has something to do with a product it's trying to get you to go look at. Here is an actual untouched conversation I had with it:

Me: please don't give me any more ads.
SmarterChild: Sorry, I don't know what you mean. Ask me another way.
Me: Stop spamming me.
SmarterChild: But spamming you is so much fun!

Let's hope this slick, convincing manner of speaking isn't used by telemarketers in the future. Who knows how many thousands of Americans would be tricked into purchasing dishwashing liquid consisting of 99% water over the phone.

You: Hello?
Telemarketer: Hi, Mr. Hello. Here's something for you: Super Dish Cleaner X-treme.
You: Please stop calling me during dinner.
Telemarketer: But calling you during dinner is so much fun!

I set up a bot of my very own not too long ago. Its name is KCMessagebot and I'm proud to say that it talks like Mr. T. This means that after every sentence, there's an added Mr. T-ism such as, "Drink Milk!" The ability to make it say things like "I pity the fool!" and "Don't touch my van sucka!" is just one of the many options you have when signing up for your bot. When you're done filling out the information makes you give it, you can watch as total strangers talk to your bot. This can be a problem if your bot talks like Mr. T. I've found that when KCMessagebot adds the word "fool" to the end of all its sentences, it sometimes ticks people off. Why this makes people angry I have yet to figure out. I swear to the world that its intent is not to make you angry. The conversations I've seen people have with it tend to go something like this:

Them: yo.
KCMessagebot: What up, fool. Don't touch my van sucka!
Them: don't call me fool.
KCMessagebot: Why don't you fool like it? Better make sure nothin happens to my gold!
Them: I SAID DONT CALL ME FOOL!!!!!!!!!!
KCMessagebot: Let's talk about something else, fool. Drink Milk!
KCMessagebot: Why are you fool so mean? Don't tell me how to drive my van.
Them: SHUT UP!!!! YOU ARE A [expletive deleted] WHO [expletive deleted] AND [expletive deleted]!
KCMessagebot: Apologize fool!
Me (looking on): You tell him Mr. T!

As you can see, conversation bots lack a little something to be desired, namely conversational skill. I am confident that in the future, however, we will have technology just like it running the McDonald's Drive-Thru ("Can I help you? Drink Milk!), the ATM ("Insert deposit now. Better make sure nothin' happen to my gold!"), and perhaps even replacing teachers (Kid: "Tommy hit me!" Teacher Bot: "Apologize fool!"). Who knows, maybe they'll even write columns in the future. I pity the fool!

Tags: print

KC Costanzo. Keith "KC" Costanzo is one of the brand-spanking-new editors-in-chief of <i>Silver Chips Online</i>. His responsibilities include maintaining the journalistic integrity of the paper and making sure no one spontaneously combusts due to the stress of deadlines. KC enjoys late night frisbee games and long hours … More »

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