Artificial Intelligence, financial services

A brief history of chatbots

23 Aug, 2017
6 Min Read Dan Ward

A brief history of chatbots

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When you imagine a futuristic world, chatting with “simulated humans” is probably an image that comes to mind. Even though it was characterised by many popular movies in the 1990s, artificially intelligent bots have become commonplace in today’s tech world.

A chatbot (or chatterbot) is a computer program able to simulate a conversation with humans. Using artificial intelligence (AI) technology, these programs learn to respond to typical questions or scenarios in order to have a “normal” conversation.

The early days

Chatbots actually go way back to the 1960s. Recognised as the first of its kind, Eliza was a computer program developed at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1966. She is one of the first programs to pass the Turing Test which was designed to measure a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent human behaviour.

To simulate normal human conversation, Eliza was inputted with a series of scripts. When spoken to, the script would prompt her with a typical response that she would say aloud.

Experiments with chatbots continued, and in the 1980s a British programmer named Rollo Carpenter created a renowned chatterbot called Jabberwacky. Also assessed using the Turing Test, Jabberwacky proved capable of having a reasonably engaging and humorous conversation. Instead of just following a script, the program was capable of “learning” while communicating – allowing it to grow smarter and more realistic over time.

Learning chatbots became increasingly popular, with many more developed across the 1990s and early 2000s (i.e.A.L.I.C.EMitsukuAlbertandSmarterChild). SmarterChild came about during the rise in popularity of instant messaging apps, and was the first bot capable of having a conversation via text about a wide range of subjects.

Along came Siri

Siri is a computer program developed by the SRI International Artificial Intelligence Centre in 2005. Recorded with Australian, British and American voice actors, the software combined speech recognition software and machine learning to create a virtual personal assistant.

Almost immediately following its launch as an app in 2010, the software was acquired by Apple and has since been integrated into their most widely used operating systems.

These days Siri is best known for her ability to perform phone actions, check basic information, schedule events and reminders, search the internet, navigate, and engage with other apps on Apple products.

With the release of Apple’s latest operating system in 2016, Siri can now coordinate with third-party apps such as payment processing, ride-sharing (Uber), and messaging.

Chatbots and messaging apps

The integration between chatbots and messaging apps is now being used by companies across the world to drive customer engagement.

In 2015, Uber integrated with Facebook Messenger so that during a chat with friends, a user could easily type in an address, tap the address, “Request a Ride”, and book the ride all in the same conversation.

Domino’s created a similar service by integrating a chatbot with Messenger. Customers can now message the Dominos bot and ask about specials or vouchers, before ordering and paying for their meal.

Creating and launching a chatbot within popular messaging platforms is fast becoming the hottest digital tool of the year. It has been adopted by the likes of supermarkets, hotels, travel agencies, airlines, retail stores and many more.

With chatbots able to answer a variety of support questions, and facilitate sales at the immediate request of the customer, this non-intrusive and hyper-personalised form of customer engagement is the latest, and possibly most exciting, step in the future of chatbots.

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