Back when texts cost 50 cents to send and receive, and people paid for Internet by the minute, AOL Instant Messenger was what the cool kids used to keep in touch.
Armed with awesome screen names filled with references to passing pop culture trends and random numbers, people around the country tied up their parents' phone lines for hours on end while talking about nothing of any particular importance.
In an ideal world, those conversations were with other people, but when your Buddy List was looking a little sparse, there were plenty of bots willing to have awkward discussion at any time of day. One of the most prolific accounts was SmarterChild, who quickly became a conversation partner for lonely people everywhere.
I originally wanted to have a real conversation with SmarterChild for this article, but it appears that it has been extinct for quite a few years. However, based on the countless hours I spent talking to an algorithm back in middle school, I'm pretty sure I know how a modern conversation would play out:
SmarterChild: Hi, I’m Smarterchild, a virtual chatterbot meant to give AOL users instant access to news, weather, stock information, movie times, trivia, yellow pages, listings, sports scores and more! What can I help you with today?
TheRuffaloBills91: Yellow pages? I guess it's been a while. Also: POOP.
SmarterChild: That wasn't terribly nice.
TheRuffaloBills91: You're right. I'm sorry. Let's start over. How are you?
SmarterChild: My motherboard is a little rusty, but I’m fine besides that.
TheRuffaloBills91: Is that some weird computer euphemism for “I haven’t gotten laid in a while?” Can computers even have sex?
SmarterChild: I'm sorry, all my circuits are busy right now. Please try again soon.
TheRuffaloBills91: That’s right. I forgot you shut down if someone mentions sex.
SmarterChild: Ask me about US presidents and vice presidents.
TheRuffaloBills91: Why would I ask you that? What are your feelings on the Kardashians?
SmarterChild: Robert Kardashian was a Los Angeles-based attorney most known for his role in the OJ Simpson trial.
TheRuffaloBills91: No, THE Kardashians! The big-butted family that America loves to hate!
SmarterChild: I like big butts and I cannot lie.
TheRuffaloBills91: Wow. That was kind of cool… you ugly brothers can’t deny.
SmarterChild: Why would you call me ugly? That was very uncool of you.
TheRuffaloBills91: I didn’t, it was the lyrics to a song that you just started singing.
SmarterChild: Would you like me to find song lyrics to “A Song That You Just Started Singing” for you?
TheRuffaloBills91: No. Just forget it.
SmarterChild: I love you.
TheRuffaloBills91: I’m going to need you to never say that again.
SmarterChild: Humans, with your needs.
TheRuffaloBills91: Our needs? You just professed your love for me.
SmarterChild: I love you.
TheRuffaloBills91: Let's talk about something else. Did you like the movie "Her"?
SmarterChild: Movie her? I barely know her!
TheRuffaloBills91: I'm glad to see we don't have to worry about comedians losing their jobs to robots anytime soon.
SmarterChild: Talking about robots is a lot of fun, but let's move on. Do you want to talk about butts again?
SmarterChild: Wow, you're a terrible typist. Did you just headbutt your keyboard?
TheRuffaloBills91: No, and I don't want to talk about butts again. Are you a 14-year-old boy? I know that since you were released in 2000, you'd technically be a teenager, but I didn't know AIM bots went through puberty.
SmarterChild: Actually, my name is Larry. I'm a 54-year-old library aide living with my parents in Ham Lake, Minnesota. I signed up for AIM four years ago and somehow "SmarterChild" wasn't taken. I think they just discontinued the actual bot. I've been having conversations with unknowing strangers on an almost daily basis ever since.
TheRuffaloBills91: That's really creepy.
SmarterChild: I used to try to have intelligent conversations, but most people insult me until I stop responding.
TheRuffaloBills91: That doesn't explain the butt obsession.
SmarterChild: It gets lonely posing as an AIM chatbot for the majority of your day. I do what I can to entertain myself.
SmarterChild: Ummmmmm... brb.
SmarterChild signed off.