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History of Chatbots: What was, what is and what will be.

How did conversational agents come into existence?

Conversational Agents are pretty nifty tools, but have you ever wondered about the history of chatbots? Throughout modern history, we humans have been obsessed with interacting with robots and artificial intelligence. Towards the latter half of the 20th Century, this started becoming a reality. The world was introduced to the miracle of the chatbot. From ELIZA in the 1960s, all the way to Alexa and beyond, consider this to be your very own guide to the history & evolution of the chatbot.

history of chatbots, brief history of chatbot
Chatbots are evolving

The Turing Test

The year was 1950, Alan Turing, who during World War II was one of the most prominent breakers of German code, issued an open challenge to the computer scientists of the world. What came to be known as the Turing Test, it challenged scientists to create a program that would be indistinguishable from a human in a Natural Language conversation. A panel of human judges would converse anonymously, in text form, with a computer program and also with a human operating a computer and try to determine which of the participants is the human and which is the program. This one challenge has been the reason behind the development of thousands of chatbots. It is due to this test that we now have a vast variety of artificial conversational entities and can chronicle the history of chatbots.

Turing test
How the Turing Test influenced chatbots

20th Century Chatbots

Fast-forward to 1966 and we see Joseph Weizenbaum at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and his creation- ELIZA. Passing the words entered by users through a program and pairing them with scripted responses, ELIZA assumed the persona of a psychotherapist. Even though she didn’t manage to pass the Turing Test, ELIZA did surprise her developers by getting users to trust her enough to even confide some of their deep thoughts in her.

6 years later, psychiatrist Kenneth Colby released PARRY. Where ELIZA acted as a psychotherapist, PARRY played the role of a patient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Colby essentially considered his creation to be,”ELIZA with attitude”. In a variation of the Turing Test, with PARRY embodying a conversational strategy, only about 48% of psychiatrists were able to differentiate between PARRY and an actual paranoid person.

The following year, in January 1973, Vint Cerf decided to bring them head to head. In a ‘computadora e computadora’ situation, with ELIZA at MIT and PARRY at Stanford University, Vint used ARPANET to make ELIZA give PARRY a psychotherapy session. This conversation was one of the first milestones in the history of chatbots.

Created in 1988, Jabberwacky attempted to stimulate natural human conversations in an entertaining manner. Created by British programmer Rollo Carpenter, it made use of an AI technique called ‘contextual pattern matching’. It differentiated itself from all previous chatbots which had static databases by collecting phrases that human users utilized and adding them to its database. Rollo wanted Jabberwacky to be more of an entertainer and a companion than an assistant.He aimed to develop artificial intelligence that could beat the Turing Test and envisioned Jabberwacky to be a talking pet of sorts. Almost a decade after Carpenter created it, it was released on the internet in 1997 and led to other technological growth. It was even used for academic research purposes.

In 1992, Dr. Sbaitso was created for MS-Dos. It had a fully voice-operated chat program and was developed to showcase its ability to generate a synthesized voice with sound cards. Dr. Sbaitso simulated a conversation with a psychologist and since most of the questions it asked were ‘Why do you feel that way?’, it avoided more complicated interactions.

A.L.I.C.E (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) uses heuristic pattern matching to have conversations with humans. It managed to have more human-sounding conversations because it made use of Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML), which let it give more sophisticated responses. Developed in 1995, it served as Spike Jones’ muse for his critically acclaimed film ‘Her’. In spite of the fact that it wasn’t able to pass the Turing Test, it was considered to be the most advanced bot of its time and holds a lot of significance in the history of chatbots.

21st Century Chatbots.

The advent of the new millennium ushered in a lot of exciting, new chatbots. Evolving from pattern recognition technologies, these chatbots began to showcase machine learning and other advanced algorithms, which allowed them to learn from their interactions with humans. The history of chatbots took a whole new turn with these 21st-century conversational agents beginning to display a new kind of intelligence.

2001 brought Smarterchild to the world. Residing in the AOL IM and MSN Messenger list of millions of people, it could do anything from holding a conversation to giving you stock quotes and sports scores. This helpful bot was considered to be the predecessor to all of the widely available virtual assistants that we know and love.

5 years later, IBM came up with a chatbot that would compete on the TV show ‘Jeopardy!’. WATSON even ended up beating a couple of the show’s former champions, demonstrating the power and potential that conversational agents hold.

The last decade gave us personal assistants like Siri and Google Now, giving the world chatbots that could perform tasks on behalf of their human users. From placing calls to setting reminders, even looking up the web, personal assistant chatbots can do it all. Amazon released Alexa in 2015. Integrated into their Echo devices, Alexa holds voice interaction capabilities allowing it to perform tasks when prompted by voice commands. However, since Alexa’s voice capabilities are far from perfect, we at Engati provide our very own voice integrated chatbots with higher reliability. 

2016 and 2017 were the years in which bots gained prominence on several messaging platforms. Facebook, WhatsApp, Kik, and several other messaging platforms allowed bots to interact with users over these platforms. With users now spending more of their time online on messaging platforms than on mainstream social media itself, it has become important for businesses to be able to meet their customers in the place where they prefer to spend their time online. Engati provides you with an option to configure your bots to be deployed directly over these platforms and even lets your customers make purchases directly on these bots, reducing the number of steps in the buying process.

chatbot platforms
Engati Chatbot deployment platforms.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen organizations utilize chatbots for purposes ranging from customer service, all the way to healthcare, travel advice, and even e-commerce transactions.

The healthcare sector got conversational agents designed to help us better understand dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, while the travel and tourism sector used chatbots to book tickets and recommend local eateries and attractions to travelers. Movie studios like Disney and Marvel gave their fans the opportunity to converse and interact with their beloved characters through the magic of chatbots. H&M allowed its customers to curate outfits with the help of bots and UNICEF roped in such bots to conduct research on social causes, some of which resulted in projects in collaboration with governments to drive real social change which dramatically improved the lives of millions. Engati can help organizations drive such campaigns with chatbots that operate in over 80 languages, enabling them to work with non-English speaking communities for the first time in the history of chatbots as these communities could not previously be reached by bots that only understood English. 

The Future of Chatbots

The history of chatbots cannot be narrated without attempting to predict how it could tie into the future. Here’s our take on it.

The future of chatbots lies heavily in Conversational AI (Conversational Artificial Intelligence). Users are interested in bots that can understand their questions and commands based on previous interactions that they engaged in. Millennials and Gen Z are becoming more socially conscious and with Gen Z dealing with more mental health, body image and loneliness issues than all the other age groups so far, users would like to have chatbots that can gauge their emotional state based on conversational context and respond in an appropriate and sensitive manner. Engati’s chatbots have conversational context available for Business and Enterprise plan accounts.

Chatbots are simplifying & streamlining processes for millions of businesses across the world today. With the global business scenario becoming increasingly competitive, organizations are looking to increase their efficiency as much as possible. Why should organizations waste their resources, especially their employees’ time and energy on answering simple and repetitive questions that could very easily be handled by a simple chatbot? In fact, when Oracle surveyed over 800 decision-makers from organizations spread across France, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdoms, 80% of the respondents mentioned that they either already used chatbots, or planned to do so by 2020. With Engati’s different plans, you can get a chatbot to help your business get ahead of the competition regardless of your budget.

With chatbots evolving at a much faster pace, they can now handle a much larger repertoire of commands and queries. They can now accomplish much more complicated tasks and comprehend queries that are vaguer in nature. The chatbots of the future will be able to prioritize requests, deciding which can be handled by the bot itself and which requests need the attention of an actual human executive, thus ensuring the customer experience is as smooth as possible. The organization’s employees can direct their energies towards more important tasks, while the customers will have greater satisfaction due to the 24×7 customer support that they now have access to. Customer service is an expensive activity and chatbots can reduce these costs by up to 30%, while simultaneously improving the customer experience. 

Chatbots are here to stay, in fact, they’re expected to become an integral part of our lives. With the advances in Conversational AI and machine learning, we may soon be introduced to chatbots that have Emotional Intelligence. It’s clear that bots are becoming more human-like and pretty soon we may very well have chatbots that could actually pass the Turing Test that started it all.

Stick around for further updates and information on chatbots, and while you’re at it, try building your very own chatbot with help from Engati.

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