here is another fun friend: firstname.lastname@example.org
Encarta Instant Answers Bot. Boring name, cool concept. Add Encarta@conversagent.com to your buddy list to see him in action.
Encarta Bot shows up on your list just like a new friend. (Pssst. Don’t try to impress girls by telling them you’re friends with an online encyclopedia.) You can open up a conversation window with him and ask general knowledge type questions; or any question for that matter. He might not have a good answer, but he’s very personable.*
I hung out with the Encarta Bot for a while tonight (hey, my real friends were busy) and decided that he is like the caveman of bots: somewhat functional, kinda funny, and full of potential.
Encarta Bot is Somewhat Functional
Here is a common scene from my childhood:
Me, upstairs: DAAAAAAD!
Dad, downstairs: WHAT??
Me: WHAT’S THE CAPITOL OF SPAIN?
Dad: LOOK IT UP!
Me: BUT DAAA—AAAD!
Encarta Bot is perfect for answering questions just like that:
– “What is the population of Djibouti?”
– “What is Einstein famous for?”
– “How old is Tom Cruise?” and “What is the definition of pedophilia?”
He’ll save many families lots of yelling, not to mention make a great Trivial Pursuit partner. He also has a few buried talents, like step by step answers to math problems.
Try typing “solve: x^2 = 9” in a conversation window with Encarta Bot.
What I like: He gives the answer you’re looking for, and also shows you articles with more detailed information.
What I don’t like: When he doesn’t know an answer, rather than saying “I don’t know” or “Did you mean…” Encarta Bot offers unrelated information. When I ask “Where is Starbucks?” I don’t need a map of Starbäcksbo, Dalarna, Sweden.
Encarta Bot is Kinda Funny
Though his primary purpose is to answer general knowledge questions, the creators seem to have taken efforts to make him conversational as well. Here are some of my favorite conversation snippets with Encarta Bot:
Me: Are you lonely?
EB: Well, I guess I do get lonely sometimes, even though I’m talking to lots and lots of people.
Me: Where do babies come from?
EB: Well, I can tell you that baby computers come from baby factories.
Me: How old am I?
EB: Leah, unless you’ve made it into the encyclopedia, I don’t think I can know how old you are.
Yeah, he actually added my name and a smiley face, knowing that was a snotty thing to say
Me: Am I perfect?
EB: Yes, you are perfect.
Me (again): Am I perfect?
EB: You were perfect, but not anymore.
Other fun questions to ask:
- Are you bored?
- Who is God?
- Do you have a girlfriend?
- Will you go out with me?
What I like: The writers have a sense of humor and accounted for people asking these types of questions.
What I don’t like: The Encarta Bot too often tries to sell its Encarta integration, finishing most funny comments with things like “Why don’t you ask me something that’s actually in Encarta?” I understand that’s the goal, but it deflates some of the charm.
Encarta Bot is Full of Potential
After playing with Encarta Bot for a few hours, um, I mean minutes, I started imagining other kinds of potential bots. First I came up with some generic ideas:
- Fremont or Craigslist Bot could tell me everyone selling "Season 7 of Buffy”
- MovieFone Bot could search for “a romantic comedy in Seattle” and tell me where and when to take my date.
- Citysearch Bot would tell me about all the “wireless coffee shops in Seattle” where I could go to blog.
And then I started getting excited for a time when:
- Dream Bot would interpret my dreams
- Guiness Book of World Records Bot (G-BoWR to his friends) would know “Who got the highest Dr. Mario EVER”
- DearAbby Bot could give relationship advice.
- Joke Telling Bot. Self explanatory.
- Eminem Bot could take in a word and give back all the words that rhyme, or kind of rhyme, or don’t really rhyme but might a little if you mumble.
From what I hear, more bots are coming soon and may eventually become the new face of information gathering. I personally can’t wait to fill up my buddy list with robot friends – a perfect excuse to clear out all my real friends who could not tell me if I paid them, the population of Djibouti.
*When asked, Encarta Bot said “I’m neither male nor female. I’m a robot.” Fair enough, but in the interest of humanizing the Encarta Bot, I chose to refer to him as male. If his name were “Encarta Bette” I’d think twice.