On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog comic. Copyrighted image, hopefully fair use :-)

I Made a Chatbot Before It Was Cool

Do you remember ICQ? It used to be a thing for communication. You know, we all used ICQ around year 2000 the same way you are using Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Viber or Slack (or whatever) these days. Supposedly, it is still alive (says Wikipedia), but hardly used (says I).

At some point, many of us switched from using an official client to a multi-protocol client that supported other services (such as Skype, IRC etc.) along ICQ. I was on Windows then and used Miranda.

Great thing about Miranda was it was really easy to extend. And it even had a plugin that allowed bi-directional communication with PHP scripts. This plugin/class had an interface that allowed to receive and process messages real-time and send a response, if needed. It might have been predecessor to this plugin, but I am not sure.

Anyway, chat bots are supposedly cool these days. Or at least they used to be, but most people hate them, because they are basically the same as using a phone and talking to a robot that requires you to “push 1 for technical support, 2 for invoicing, 3 for offers and 9 to repeat“. And since they are pretty stupid and don’t really allow for natural language communication, you will have to wait to talk to a real person nevertheless. But what do I know…

Some people at that time used to send me messages asking if I was available at weird times (read: early morning). And trying to please them, I programmed a chat bot (but really just a stupid script) that would send them a reply.

This scripted chat would then go like this:

User: Hi! You there?
Me (substituted by my chat bot): Hello
User: How are you?
Me: Good. How are you?
User: Good, thanks. I wanted to ask you about XYZ. Does that work fine?
Me: OK, let me think.
User: OK
Me: OK
User (after waiting for a minute): So what do you think?
Me: I don’t know
User: What do you mean?
Me: I am not sure
User (confused): ???
Me: What do you mean?
User: What the hell is going on?
Me: I don’t understand
User: 🤬 (if emojis existed then, but they didn’t ***)
Me: ?

And you can imagine it. It was really a primitive auto-responder just matching some trigger words with semi-random answers. Think ELIZA, but really having just a couple of different trigger words and responses to them.

And so my chat bot from 2004 probably confused couple of my friends. I shut it down after it pissed my girlfriend at the time, who thought I was just making fun of her.

*** I am kind of lying there, because emojis did exist in 2004… But: in Japan only and definitely not on PCs. Just read the whole Emoji entry.

Featured image “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” comic used under fair use.

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