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SmarterChild was a chatbot available on AOL Instant Messenger and Windows Live Messenger (previously MSN Messenger) networks.[citation needed]

A user chatting with SmarterChild


SmarterChild was an intelligent agent or "bot" developed by ActiveBuddy, Inc., with offices in New York and Sunnyvale.[citation needed] It was widely distributed across global instant messaging networks.[citation needed] SmarterChild became very popular, attracting over 30 million Instant Messenger "buddies" on AIM (AOL) and MSN and Yahoo Messenger over the course of its lifetime.[citation needed]

Founded in 2000, ActiveBuddy was the brainchild of Robert Hoffer and Timothy Kay, who later brought seasoned advertising executive Peter Levitan on board as CEO. The concept for conversational instant messaging bots came from the founder's vision to add natural language comprehension functionality to the increasingly popular AIM instant messaging application.[citation needed] The original implementation took shape as a demo that Kay programmed in Perl in his Los Altos garage to connect a single buddy name, "ActiveBuddy", to look up stock symbols, and later allow AIM users to play Colossal Cave Adventure, a famous word-based adventure game, and MIT's Boris Katz Start Question Answering System[1] but quickly grew to include a wide range of database applications the company called 'knowledge domains' 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.).[citation needed] None of the individual domains which the company had named “stocksBuddy”, “sportsBuddy”, etc. ever launched publicly. When Stephen Klein came on board as COO—and eventually CEO—-he insisted that all of the disparate test “buddies” be launched together with the company’s highly-developed colloquial chat domain. He suggested using “SmarterChild”, a username coined by Tim Kay which Tim was using to test various things. The bundled domains were launched publicly as SmarterChild (on AIM initially) in June 2001.[citation needed] SmarterChild provided information wrapped in fun and quirky conversation. The company generated no revenue from SmarterChild, but used it as a demonstration of the power of what Klein called “conversational computing”. The company subsequently marketed Automated Service Agents—delivering immediate answers to customer service inquiries—-to large corporations, like Comcast, Cingular, TimeWarner Cable, etc.[2]

SmarterChild's popularity spawned targeted marketing-oriented bots for Radiohead, Austin Powers, Intel, Keebler, The Sporting News and others.[citation needed] ActiveBuddy co-founders, Kay and Hoffer, as co-inventors, were issued 2 controversial U.S. patents in 2002.[3][4]

ActiveBuddy changed its name to Colloquis (briefly Conversagent) and targeted development of consumer-facing enterprise customer service agents, which the company marketed as Automated Service Agents(tm). Microsoft acquired Colloquis in October 2006[5] and proceeded to de-commission SmarterChild and kill off the Automated Service Agent business as well.

In many ways,[further explanation needed] 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 ten million users and was getting a billion messages a day… The market was speaking."[6]

Robert Hoffer, ActiveBuddy co-founder, licensed the technology from Microsoft after Microsoft abandoned the Colloquis technology.


  1. ^ "The START Natural Language Question Answering System".
  2. ^ "Automatic for the People: Comcast Goes Live With Online Customer Support". Retrieved February 10, 2023.
  3. ^ "Error".
  4. ^ "ActiveBuddy's Patent Win Riles IM Bot Developers". Archived from the original on January 18, 2003.
  5. ^ "Microsoft Acquires Colloquis to Enhance User Interactions Online - Stories". October 12, 2006.
  6. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (October 21, 2011). "Siri Was Born A Man And Other Things You Don't Know About Apple's New Personal Assistant". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved July 2, 2014.

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