Talkabot Talks: Peter Levitan, co-founder of Activebuddy

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

Peter has worn many hats in his life as a consultant, author, and angel, but his biggest contribution to the bot space may prove to be ActiveBuddy, who’s SmarterChild was one of the first major bots for instant messaging and SMS platforms in the early 2000’s. Along with Robert Hoffer 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

There were a could of major cool factors that excited us. First, was the essential concept of people being able to have a conversation with a computer. Out bots offered both information and fun — the personality aspect was critical. Second, you have to remember the fact that we were still living in a dial-up world.

The speed of response that we offered via IM was astounding.

The ask for info and answer took 1 to 2 seconds — max. It blew people’s minds. The speed of the interaction got us our first $4 million VC investment.

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

Natural language was important mostly as it related to the user experience. As Robert says, it was all about the conversation.

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

to bot intelligence compared to SmarterChild’s users?

I am not sure what expectations are.

That said, people have to — MUST — feel that the conversation is as simple and logical as if they were speaking to another human.

Sure, they’ll cut a bot some slack (no pun intended) but they have to feel like the conversation and result are super easy and error free. Over the years we’ve seen the complaints about using Siri. People will give a bot a chance, but not for too long if the bot does not seem like a solution. Hmmm, is anyone doing consumer research about bots?

*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?*

One of our dreams, and yes this can be a bit creepy if done incorrectly, was that SmarterChild would become your BFF. It amassed a data set based on your interactions, remembered your queries, could anticipate your needs and became your ultimate digital personal diary (your DPD.)

Unfortunately, it kinda became a lame customer service bot given Microsoft’s limited horizons. They purchased the technology but not the vision or the soul.

And, its all about vision and soul.

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.