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Automated online assistant
Example of an automated online assistant providing customer service on a web page.

A chatbot (also known as a talkbot, chatterbot, Bot, chatterbox, IM bot, interactive agent, or Artificial Conversational Entity) is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, thereby passing the Turing test. Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatterbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler systems scan for keywords within the input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database.

The term "ChatterBot" was originally coined by Michael Mauldin (creator of the first Verbot, Julia) in 1994 to describe these conversational programs. Today, chatbots are part of virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, and are accessed via many organizations' apps, websites, and on instant messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger. Non-assistant applications include chatbots used for entertainment purposes, for research, and social bots which promote a particular product, candidate, or issue. Actually Semantycs of Full On Net, emulates human behavior and interact with databases and ERP like SAP.

Background

In 1950, Alan Turing's famous article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" was published, which proposed what is now called the Turing test as a criterion of intelligence. This criterion depends on the ability of a computer program to impersonate a human in a real-time written conversation with a human judge, sufficiently well that the judge is unable to distinguish reliably—on the basis of the conversational content alone—between the program and a real human. The notoriety of Turing's proposed test stimulated great interest in Joseph Weizenbaum's program ELIZA, published in 1966, which seemed to be able to fool users into believing that they were conversing with a real human. However Weizenbaum himself did not claim that ELIZA was genuinely intelligent, and the Introduction to his paper presented it more as a debunking exercise:

[In] artificial intelligence ... machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained ... its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures ... The observer says to himself "I could have written that". With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked "intelligent", to that reserved for curios ... The object of this paper is to cause just such a re-evaluation of the program about to be "explained". Few programs ever needed it more.

ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".

Development

The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).

One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. utilises a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.

Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held, with one notable example being Kyle, winner of the 2009 Leodis AI Award. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.

Chatbot competitions focus on the Turing test or more specific goals. Two such annual contests are the Loebner Prize and The Chatterbox Challenge.

Usage in dialog systems

See also: virtual assistant (artificial intelligence)
Spanish language text-based chatbot in virtual assistant running on Telegram messaging app

Chatbots are often integrated into the dialog systems of, for example, virtual assistants, giving them the ability of, for example, small talking or engaging in casual conversations unrelated to the scopes of their primary expert systems.

Messaging platforms

Currently chatbots are widely used as part of instant messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and Kik for entertaining purposes as well as B2C marketing and customer service. The bots usually appear as one of the user's contacts or as a participant in a group chat. Some IM bots are able to connect to outside databases and provide the user with news, weather reports, driving directions, movie times, stock quotes, and other information. Companies like Domino's, Pizza Hut, Disney, Nerdify, Yamato’s Line and Whole Foods have launched their own chatbots to increase end customer engagement, promote their products and services, and give their customers a more convenient and easier way to order from them. In 2016 in the travel industry, several agencies and airlines launched chatbot services via Messenger – Aeroméxico's sells tickets and answers questions using artificial intelligence, and both Aeromexico's and KLM's provide flight status updates, allow users to check in for flights, deliver mobile boarding passes and recommend hotels, restaurants and things to do in the destination. Chinese travel companies had already been providing these services for some time via WeChat.

Apps and websites

Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. In 2017, a US company called Gobot launched a drag-n-drop chatbot builder with the intent of bringing website chatbots to the masses. Also in 2017, the Israeli company Snatchbot launched a chatbot creation website, which claimed the capability of building bots with sentiment analysis.Techiexpert has compiled top 5 Facebook messengers bots in news category

Company internal platforms

Other companies explore ways how they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. SAP partnered with Kore Inc, a US-based chatbot platform vendor, to build enterprise-oriented chatterbots for certain SAP products like SAP Hana Cloud Platform, SAP Cloud for Customer (C4C), SAP SuccessFactors and Concur. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app.

Education

Some chatbots, such as the Nerdy Bot developed by Nerdify, have been created to solve challenges in education and make studying easier and more time-efficient for college and school students. Nerdy Bot communicates via the Facebook Messenger interface and aims to speed up studying by instantly delivering answers back to students in response to homework-related questions. ANTswers, a chatbot for the UC Irvine libraries was piloted in 2014 and was considered highly successful.

Toys

Chatbots have also been incorporated into devices not primarily meant for computing such as toys.

Hello Barbie is an Internet-connected version of the doll that uses a chatbot provided by the company ToyTalk, which previously used the chatbot for a range of smartphone-based characters for children. These characters' behaviors are constrained by a set of rules that in effect emulate a particular character and produce a storyline.

IBM's Watson computer has been used as the basis for chatbot-based educational toys for companies such as CogniToys intended to interact with children for educational purposes.

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