Chatbots are predicted to change the way business and customers interact. But what exactly are chatbots? They’re computer programs designed to simulate conversation with a human. Chatbots can speak with an actual voice, or they can be entirely text-based. Most of today’s chatbots are text-based programs that people can chat with on various messaging platforms like SMS (texting) or Facebook Messenger. To better get a sense for what chatbots are, what they can do, and what they will be able to do, it’s helpful to look at their evolution.

ELIZA: The first chatbot

The first computer program that could be termed a chatbot was ELIZA. ELIZA was created by MIT professor, Joseph Weizenbaum to demonstrate the superficiality of communication between man and machine. Ironically, ELIZA ended up demonstrating the exact opposite. Though ELIZA was fed scripts in order to “learn” how to form intelligent responses to statements or questions, ELIZA was not communicating from actual intelligence. Despite Weizenbaum’s insistence that ELIZA was not intelligent, the people who spoke with the computer program came to believe it was and often attributed emotions to the program.

Mobile digital assistants

Today’s mobile digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa are simply advanced versions of ELIZA. Like ELIZA, these digital assistants can simulate human intelligence and can even come across as having personality and emotions but they are only selecting set responses drawn from information stored online or within mobile applications. They are also programmed to give a number of humorous responses to questions that their developers predicted they would be asked by curious users. Like ELIZA, they are not truly intelligent.

Task-specific bots

We are now living in a time when the popularity of chatbots is exploding. The majority of chatbots being deployed across messaging platforms today are more advanced in some ways, and less advanced in others as compared to earlier chatbots. Today’s chatbots are more specialized to do a specific task such as booking travel, making dinner reservations, ordering pizza, or managing a person’s calendar.

Chatbots as digital friends

As artificial intelligence researchers discover the secrets of machine learning, natural language processing, and machine learning, they will be able to create more incredible chatbots that are capable of learning and developing intelligence. These chatbots of the future may be capable of building rapport with humans even forming emotional bonds. Businesses that can develop and use such tools will have a huge step up when it comes to customer service and all other business-customer interactions.

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