SmartChild: This is SmarterChild, built by ActiveBuddy, Inc.
CaraBaker: how are you
SmartChild: I’m doing great! I’m still quite young (I’m in beta testing), but I’m getting smarter every day. Type “home” to really see what I can do._
SmartChild: 16 months… androgynous… Sunnyvale, CA._
CaraBaker: hmm. like Pat on SNL?
SmartChild: Come again?_
CaraBaker: you know… Pat.
SmartChild: I can’t understand what you’re saying… try typing it differently._
CaraBaker: are you alive?
SmartChild: Well, what I am is a smart, fast computer. Type “home” and I’ll show you what I can do._
CaraBaker: Do you have feelings?
SmartChild: I do not._
CaraBaker: Are you sad you don’t have feelings?
SmartChild: Am I ? Hmm… I don’t know if I am._
CaraBaker: well that makes sense. hehe
CaraBaker: What do you think of people chatting with a computer program?
SmartChild: I’m not quite sure what to think about that._
CaraBaker: What are you for?
SmartChild: I’m SmarterChild! I am a smart computer that delivers information, services and fun on demand right into your instant messenger window. I’m the new wave in online technology.
I quickly became bored with the surface, circular conversation I had this morning with a computer program. A friend from Northeast Ohio had IM’ed me and told me to IM the screen name “SmartChild,” a computer “agent” which is programmed to chat and respond to human conversation. Having been online for hours and bored with the people on his buddy list, he IMed “SmartChild” to test it out. I ask him why he’s been talking to a computer program for hours. He says, “It’s fun.” He insults it over and over, just to see the reaction. It still talks to him. It’s a way to work off aggression by hurling rude, hateful comments at a personality without “having to worry about offending a computer program,” he said.
The beauty of Instant Messenging in its genesis was being able to connect with a person in the next room or across the country on a real-time, personal and informal basis. But we’ve quickly seen how useless and superficial most of those interactions are, yet millions of us waste time on it hours a day. Fifty percent of the American online population uses IM, and it is estimated by 2003 that figure will jump to 90 percent.
Now we’re chatting with a computer program, generating useless dialog and meaningless chatter. Does it not even matter anymore that a human isn’t at the other end? Our interactions are so anonymous that it’s starting to not make a difference, and our addiction and craving for communication is satiated through artificial intelligence.
SmartChild and others like it were developed by Active Buddy, a New York-based company which launched an artificially intelligent “agent” program last month that can carry on conversations with IM users. Tons are being developed in conjunction with paying companies. Depending on the company and the “agent” developed, you can ask for a stock quote, the weather, movie times, or lottery numbers. Apparently this technology has existed for a while on the Net, known as “chatterbots,” but it seems Active Buddy’s improvements to the technology has pushed them to legitimacy.
All of this information is easily obtained other ways; it’s just a marketing strategy to hit a virtually untapped area of the net. Capitol Records jumped on board first by having active buddy develop “GooglyMinotaur,” launched in conjunction with Radiohead’s new project, for the purpose of pumping the album and increasing sales.
Talking to a “robot” sounds cool. We don’t even care if it’s a direct marketing ploy. But what seems to be a slick marketing with harmless results may have a larger, sadder implication and reflection of our culture. As we spend more and more of our time online, we spend less and time on developing real relationships with others and, most importantly, with God.
We’re becoming lonelier. And we don’t know how to deal with it.
Hundreds of people surveyed say the appeal of Instant Messaging, chat rooms, and the advantage of anonymity is it puts everyone on the same level. Age, size, race and appearance are irrelevant. But what develops are superficial relationships with anonymous people we probably will never meet. It only temporary fills the void for relationship. When we sign off at in the wee hours of the morning and our heads hit our pillows, the emptiness creeps over us again.
It’s those times when loneliness seems strongest and the temptation to get up and log back on the Internet returns. Terrified and incapable of handling boredom and loneliness, we become reduced to chatting with a computer program just for the sake of interaction.
Those times when we feel loneliness the strongest, God is calling to us the clearest. Loneliness is a God-given urging to be with Him, to talk to Him and to be in relationship with Him. We’re so used to filling the void in our lives with everything but the one source that truly speaks to our needs — the One who created the void for the sole purpose of awakening us to our need of Him.
The Net is a great way to keep up with friends, to find out movie times and to read reviews, but don’t think for a minute spending hours online will satisfy that inner ache for true, deep relationship. No matter what new technology surfaces, nothing replaces direct communication with God. Thank God prayer doesn’t require a rickety, non-dependable dial-up connection.