From the beloved assistant on your iPhone to the ever so polite customer service assistant on a service webpage, the average netizen comes across chatbots on a day to day basis. So chatbots, what are they? Good question. Let’s cover the basics:

What is a chatbot? It is a service that uses a set of rules or artificial intelligence to carry conversations that sound convincingly human. In essence, it’s an A.I. program that chats.

How does it work? Chat bots can function using a set of rules but these can only carry out limited responses to specific commands. They can also function using machine learning which means it has A.I. or artificial intelligence. This type of bot gets smarter by learning from conversations with humans.

Where are they used? They are used to simulate active interactions with a user, to aid business processes, to gain information from large groups, as a personal assistant and the list goes on.

Looks like they are everywhere but chatbots are not a new phenomenon. In fact, the earliest chatbot ever invented was in 1966. But to really understand their origin we must go further back in time when Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, theorized the possibility of an intelligent machine to impersonate human conversation and developed the Turing Test in 1950. The test evaluates a computer program’s ability to impersonate a human in real time written conversation. This conversation should be convincing enough for a human judge to not be able to distinguish it from a real human. This idea became the foundation for the chatbot revolution.

ELIZA: The very first chatbot. It was created by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966. It used pattern matching and substitution methodology to simulate conversation.

Parry: Developed by psychiatrist Kenneth Calby in 1972, the program imitated a patient with schizophrenia.

Jabberwacky: Created by developer Rollo Carpenter in 1988, the program aimed to simulate natural human conversation in an entertaining way.

Dr. Sbaitso: Created by Creative Labs for MS Dos in 1992, it is one of the earliest attempts of incorporating A.I. into a chatbot and is known for its wholly voice operated chat program.

A.L.I.C.E. or “Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity”. It was a natural language processing bot that used heuristic pattern matching to carry conversations.

Smarterchild: The precursor to Siri and S Voice, it was a  chatbot developed in 2001 that was available on AOL IM and MSN Messenger with the ability to carry out fun conversations with quick data access.

IBM Watson: Developed to compete in Jeopardy! this chatbot uses natural language processing to analyze and interpret data and interact with people.

Siri: Developed by Apple for iOS in 2010, it is an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator that uses a natural language UI. It paved the way for all AI bots and PAs thereafter.

Google Now: Developed by Google in 2012, this bot answers questions, performs actions through requests made to a set of web services and makes recommendations.

Alexa: Developed by Amazon for Echo in 2015, this program uses voice recognition and algorithms to receive and respond to voice commands.

Cortana: Developed by Microsoft in 2015, it is a PA that recognizes voice commands and responds in addition to making recommendations and setting reminders.

So from programs that could make rudimentary text conversations to A.I. bots that can make full-fledged vocal conversations, chat bots have come a long way. The day when the chatbots revolutionize every field of business and consumer lives is not far away.


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