Talkabot Talks: Robert Hoffer, co-founder of Activebuddy

This post originally appeared on the the company blog to promote the Talkabot Conference

Robert has co-founded a number of internet companies, but none perhaps as important to the bot space as ActiveBuddy, who’s SmarterChild was one of the first major bots for instant messaging and SMS platforms in the early 2000’s. Along with Peter Levitan he will speak with Howdy’s Ben Brown at Talkabot Conference about how the future of bots are rooted in the history of early bot pioneers.

In your pitch video, your team was very bullish on the potential of chatbots as a concept. What made you so sure about it’s potential back then?

We were certain because we were heavy users of both the Web and Instant messaging. The prototype of SmarterChild — ActiveBuddy — the company’s original namesake — worked incredibly well. Conversational user interface benefits back then were even more significant as the Web was so slow — most people still used dial up connections; so text was even more compelling by contrast.

How important was natural language input to Smarterchild’s popularity?

Super important. But even back then we didn’t consider ourselves to be a ‘natural language’ we were a chat and messaging company. And chat is different than natural language. So we focused our energy and attention on being really good at understanding and responding to chat in the most natural way possible within a messaging context.

Do you think today’s bot users have higher expectations with regards

to bot intelligence compared to SmarterChild’s users?

They should — but it’s hard to imagine that they do. With rare exception the current crop of bots are playing catch up to where we left SmarterChild development half a decade ago. Machine learning and NLU systems only go so far — the technology is part of the equation but editorial and context — writing in a personality — is the other part of the equation. NO bot so far has come close in this regard.

Compared to the 1990’s, the market for bot products is arguably wider

today. What do you think a SmarterChild would look like in 2016?

He would have the world’s most amazing smooth jet-black case machine tooled to perfection and design embodying the best aspects of SmarterChild and of course know everything about everything in every language.

Join us Sept 28–29th in Austin, Texas to discuss bots, conversational software and community for the first ever Talkabot Conference. Full track tickets are still available but going fast!

Follow @TalkabotConf for the latest announcements and news.