A Look t Some of the Virtual Friends We’ve Made Over the Years
Virtual friends might seem like a relatively common thing, but they’ve actually been around longer than you think! In 1966, the first chatterbot – known as ELIZA – was invented by MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum. Considering it was programmed using what we would regard today as primitive punch cards, it’s pretty impressive that you could interact with AI back then. Today we rely on AI-based “friends” for a lot of the things we do. Here’s a look at some of our favorite (or in some cases despised) virtual friends over the last 25 years.
It’s the mid-1990s and you’re busy typing an important essay for your English Composition class using Microsoft Word when a little animated paper clip would pop up and unhelpfully offer you “help.” His name was Clippy, and his job was to make your word processing experience as miserable as possible. More than anything, he was just an obstacle for finishing the paper. After 12 years, Microsoft finally sent him off to the sunset in 2007. However, if you miss him, you’ll be relieved to know that Clippy has been immortalized as an official emoji in Windows 11.
A lot of teenagers loved to have fun with SmarterChild. Compatible with messenger platforms AOL, Yahoo! And MSN, this predecessor to chat clients like Slack and Discord was intended to be a way for folks to look up information — for instance, about what movies are currently playing at the cinema — or even to play text-based games, but of course it became a virtual punching bag where you could type vulgar insults and enjoy the bot’s pithy responses.
Tamagotchi Digital Pets
If you were growing up in the mid-1990s, it is impossible to forget Bandai’s Tamagotchi digital pets! These keychain thingies with a small black and white screen and a few buttons were first sold in Japan in 1996 and brought over to the U.S. the following year, it was a huge fad for quite some time. The objective was simple: take care of your virtual pet as it goes through all the lifecycles and keep it happy until it dies. Some caretakers were known to literally have funerals and bury their virtual pets after death!
It seems that at one time or another every technology-based company has introduced their version of a robot dog to the amazement and wonderment of nerds, dorks, and dweebs who attend these technology conventions. But none were more iconic than Aibo, Sony’s successful take on the cyborg version of man’s best friend. Launched in 1999 with a hefty price tag of $2,000, Sony was able to eventually sell an impressive 150,000 robot canines by 2015!
The year 2011 is when the robots finally emerged victorious over humanity…at Jeopardy at least. That January, IBM’s supercomputer Watson took legendary Jeopardy Wizards Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter to school. What was its secret? Researchers had fed Watson 200 million pages worth of content, including encyclopedias, movie scripts, and books. Its ability to browse through 2 million pages in three seconds made it the perfect participant for a game show that tested general knowledge. However, having access to less-than-accurate information, like the kind provided in user-submitted Urban Dictionary proved to be Watson’s downfall.
When Apple’s Siri was introduced in 2011, everybody freaked out because it was apparent nobody had learned any of the lessons from the Terminator movie franchise about robots taking over the world. Think about it: you could now make a phone call with a mere voice command! Of course, what Siri really did was make interactions with a digital entity a normal thing that we do every day. Of course, now Google Assistant has joined the fray, screening phone calls to prevent annoying telemarketers from selling us stuff, and Amazon’s Alexa, who you can order to do stuff to make your smart home do the smart things you need it to do.
A collaboration between Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams, this bot was created as an attempt to research conversational understanding. It backfired spectacularly. It turns out, if you have an AI take its conversational cues from the World Wide Web, and those conversations are full of comments that are hateful, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and decidedly pro-Hitler, you’ll end up with a bot that says a whole lot of inappropriate stuff. Introduced in 2016, Tay was taken offline later that year for “reprogramming,” but hasn’t been heard from since.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the Metaverse already has a chatbot. “Her” name is Kuki, an offshoot of the Mitsuku chatbot that has been in development since all the way back in 2005. She claims to be 18 years old and has quite a body, which just further demonstrates that the commodification of the female body exists whether we’re talking about the real world or VR. Either way, you can reach Kuki however you wish: Facebook, Discord, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch.