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SmarterChild was an intelligent agent or bot developed by ActiveBuddy, Inc., with offices in New York and Sunnyvale. It was widely distributed across global instant messaging and SMS networks. SmarterChild developed intimate friendships with over 30 million Instant Messenger users on AIM (AOL) and MSN over the course of its lifetime.
Founded in 2000, ActiveBuddy was the brainchild of Robert Hoffer, Timothy Kay and Peter Levitan. The idea for instant messaging bots came from the team's vision to add natural language comprehension functionality to the increasingly popular instant messaging and SMS platforms. The original implementation took shape as a word-based adventure game but quickly grew to include a wide range of database applications including instant access to news, weather, stock information, movie times, yellow pages listings, and detailed sports data, as well as a variety of tools (personal assistant, calculators, translator, etc.). The company had not launched a public bot until the arrival of the eventual new-CEO, Stephen Klein. Shortly after he arrived at the company in May 2001, he insisted that all of the knowledge domains (sports, weather, movies, etc.) plus the chat functionality be bundled together and launched under the screen name "SmarterChild" which was one of the many test bots that were being run internally (the screen name "SmarterChild" was one of Timothy Kay's personal test bots). The bundled domains were launched publicly as SmarterChild (on AIM initially) in June 2001. SmarterChild acted as a showcase for the quick data access and possibilities for fun personalized conversation that the company planned to turn into customized, niche specific products.
The rapid success of SmarterChild led to targeted marketing-oriented bots for Radiohead, Austin Powers, Intel, Keebler, The Sporting News and others. ActiveBuddy strengthened its hold on the intelligent agent market by receiving a U.S. patent in 2002.
ActiveBuddy changed its name to Colloquis and prospered selling a superior automated customer service SAS offering to large companies (Comcast, TimeWarner, Cingular, Vonage among others). Microsoft acquired Colloquis in 2007 and proceeded to de-commission SmarterChild and kill off the Automated Service Agent business as well.
In many ways, SmarterChild was a precursor to Apple's Siri and Samsung's S Voice. As Shawn Carolan of Menlo Ventures, a Siri investor said, "…When I first encountered Siri, SmarterChild already had 10 million users and was getting a billion messages a day… The market was speaking."
One of the founders of ActiveBuddy, who left the company in 2002 is using some of the underlying technology in his current project, AB2.
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- Estabrooks, Mac (February 16, 2006). "See SmarterChild. See SmarterChild type. SmarterChild types fast. Type, SmarterChild, type.". The Toronto Star.