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Peter Levitan, who served as CEO of Smarter Child’s maker Active Buddy, has said that the chatbot attracted over 30 million users, and at one point accounted for 5% of global instant messenger traffic.

Smarter Child was able to reach so many people because it was built upon the world’s dominant messaging platforms–just as new chatbots are designed to run on Facebook Messenger–and because it was as fast and easy as talking with a friend.

ELIZA worked by parsing the words that users entered into a computer, and then matching them to a list of possible scripted responses.

ELIZA, using a script that simulated a psychotherapist, proved to be a major influence on natural language processing and artificial intelligence, with copies and variants popping up at universities around the country. He intended ELIZA to be a mere parody of human conversation, yet suddenly users were confiding their deepest thoughts in ELIZA, and experts were declaring that chatbots would be indistinguishable from humans within a small number of years., Weizenbaum rejected the notion that machines could replace human intellect.

(See: The racist and sexist outbursts of Microsoft’s Tay chatbot.)“If you look at what you’ve built, it’s this massive pile of numbers,” Mauldin says.

“There’s no way to look at it and make sure the solution is correct, or is what you want, because it’s all gray goo inside, just like a real brain.”Although chatbots proliferated among academics, programmers, and enthusiasts for years after ELIZA’s creation, Smarter Child was the first to become a widespread consumer phenomenon.

While the move was successful from a business standpoint–it culminated in a 2006 acquisition by Microsoft–Weissman has some regrets about not sticking with Smarter Child as the core business.“It captured something with users,” Weissman says.

But over the past few years, chatbots have made a comeback.He argued instead that such machines were just tools, and extensions of the human mind.He further stressed that machines’ understanding of language was entirely dependent on the context in which they were used, and argued that a more general computer understanding of human language was not possible.As Hoffer notes, every branch of a conversation had to be scripted, and Active Buddy was constantly adding to the script in response to what the company learned from users.“All of that interaction was editorialized and programmed, and therefore required an enormous staff as it grew,” Hoffer says.Smarter Child faced obstacles on the business side as well.

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