If you’re a millennial, chances are you remember AIM’s SmarterChild, an “intelligent” chatbot that simulated human conversation. Sound familiar? Nowadays, ChatGPT’s AI-infused chatbot is all the rage, providing smarter and more eloquent answers to just about any question you may have. As someone who bothered the heck out of SmarterChild as a kid, I was nostalgic for a similar experience, so I gave ChatGPT a try.
So, did ChatGPT win over this skeptical contrarian? It sure did. It felt like I was having a conversation with an actual human being, which SmarterChild just simply couldn’t emulate during its heyday.
Initially, I didn’t love the idea of ChatGPT… or anything artificial intelligence-related for that matter. SmarterChild couldn’t compose articles and essays like ChatGPT does—a feature I considered an affront to classic journalism. Maybe it was an overreaction, but I saw it as a threat to my career. I resisted the alluring pull of ChatGPT for months. I wouldn’t even use those AI image generators due to copyright issues. That said, curiosity eventually won out. Also, as a journalist in the tech field, I figured I should educate myself on it, as it’s important to stay abreast of the latest tech trends.
SmarterChild gave basic information like the weather report and movie time listings, but ChatGPT will explain complex topics and write customized resumes and cover letters. ChatGPT proved to be a useful tool for those with inquiring minds. Heck, it’ll even dole out relationship advice if you so desire. It’s definitely more advanced and nuanced than SmarterChild. What surprised me was the fact that I kept going back to it with a new round of questions. I guess I’m a convert now.
Instant answers, instant gratification
The best thing about SmarterChild were the instantaneous answers. I was a lonely kid that spent a great deal of time on the family computer, so I liked having a chatbot to both talk to and infuriate. However, the answers weren’t always very articulate or nuanced. In fact, SmarterChild was downright dismissive at times, as you can see in the below video. These somewhat indifferent responses were likely due to the limitations of AI technology at the time. As far as tech goes, we’ve come a long way since the early 2000s.
The instant answers were nice, but actual conversations with SmarterChild were often cyclical in nature, especially when you asked complex questions. It was kind of like talking to an NPC (non-playable character) in a video game where they rotate through the same bit of dialogue over and over. It was fun to provoke an angry response out of the chatbot, but you’d have to spend a good chunk of time spamming the heck out of it. ChatGPT is far more nuanced in how it engages with you.
ChatGPT is also more respectful in tone and the answers are much more satisfactory. My questions were answered with certain level of finesse that the AIM chatbot couldn’t hold a candle to. When I asked ChatGPT to tell me more about the greyhound breed (I own a former racer), I was surprised by the information it pulled from the web. Not only did it give me a brief history of the breed, but also information on the temperament and physicality. I’m a bit of a history buff, so I really enjoyed learning about how they were kept as royal pets in ancient Egypt.
IDG / Ashley Biancuzzo
ChatGPT had me feeling my oats
It wouldn’t be a genuine ChatGPT experience if you didn’t ask it about yourself, which is exactly what I did. The AI chatbot did a good job summarizing my career as a tech journalist, but I didn’t expect the complimentary tone that was peppered throughout the paragraphs. In the screenshot below, ChatGPT says I’m “considered to be a respected voice in the technology journalism field.” Not that I need the confidence boost, but it’s certainly nice! It’s definitely more human-sounding, which is a welcome departure from SmarterChild’s dismissive ways. I almost felt a real connection to it.
IDG / Ashley Biancuzzo
It’s impossible to piss ChatGPT off
Millennials loved to anger SmarterChild and I was no different. Whenever I needed to burn off some teenage rage, I’d cuss out the AIM chatbot. If you harassed it enough, it would start responding with snarky one word answers. SmarterChild definitely had a distinct personality and you just don’t see that anymore. Was it fun? You bet. Was it inappropriate? Absolutely.
ChatGPT has the patience of a holy saint. In fact, when I intentionally insulted the bot, it apologized for offending me. What?! Although ChatGPT offers more nuanced answers to questions, you can’t really piss it off like you could with SmarterChild, as it’s programmed to not engage in inappropriate or offensive conversation. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.
Nowadays, I’m less interested in insulting chatbots. I’d much rather ask legitimate questions and receive complex answers, which ChatGPT does successfully—though you can’t fully trust AI chatbots to tell the truth, no matter how confident they sound. The excerpt above says I’ve contributed to PCWorld’s video content, for example, even though I never have. You need to double-check their facts.
That said, I’ll always remember SmarterChild fondly, but ChatGPT is a much better tool overall. It breaks down mathematical equations and lines of code, and it’ll even generate song lyrics. If you want to ask it philosophical questions like… Do we have free will? ChatGPT will provide a thoughtful answer. What can I say? SmarterChild walked so ChatGPT could run.
Ashley is a professional writer and editor with a strong background in tech and pop culture. She has written for high traffic websites such as Polygon, Kotaku, StarWars.com, and Nerdist. In her off time, she enjoys playing video games, reading science fiction novels, and hanging out with her rescue greyhound.