Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
Chat bot, chatbot or chatterbot, can be found on screens and in the virtual worlds, but also in the real world, for example holographically projected or as physical talking and responding puppet, toy or robot. Often, chat bot appears online and in instant messenger programs such as Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger or Google Talk, where a chat bot is part of the buddy, contact or follow list of the human user. Chat bot appears on many other platforms as well, such as social networks (e.g. Facebook), virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) or mobile devices (e.g. iPhone).
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
A representative example of a chat bot is A.L.I.C.E., brought to artificial life in 1995 by Richard Wallace. The A.L.I.C.E. bot participated in numerous competitions related to natural language processing evaluation and obtained many honors and awards, and it is also worth mentioning that this chat bot won the Loebner Prize contest at least three times, it was also part of the top 10 at Chatterbox competition, and won the best character/personality chat bot contest.
According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, "Chatbots are [...] increasingly used in particular for mental health applications, prevention and behavior change applications (such as smoking cessation or physical activity interventions).".[48] They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety.[49] A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.[50]
Although Weizenbaum created his ELIZA thirty years before Internet became familiar to the general public, his creation is still alive and accessible to everyone. Watch the following video created by a youtube user IanProCastsCoUk, and see how the javascript version of Eliza emulates a Rogerian psychotherapist, responds on questions and leads simple conversations.
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
There are various search engines for bots, such as Chatbottle, Botlist and Thereisabotforthat, for example, helping developers to inform users about the launch of new talkbots. These sites also provide a ranking of bots by various parameters: the number of votes, user statistics, platforms, categories (travel, productivity, social interaction, e-commerce, entertainment, news, etc.). They feature more than three and a half thousand bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and Kik.
According to Richard Wallace, chatbots development faced three phases over the past 60 years. In the beginning, chatbot only simulated human-human conversations, using canned responses based on keywords, and it had almost no intelligence. Second phase of development was strictly associated with the expansion of Internet, thanks to which a chatbot was widely accessed and chatted with thousands of users. Then, the first commercial chatbot developers appeared. The third wave of chatbots development is combined with advanced technologies such as natural language processing, speech synthesis and real-time rendering videos. It comprises of chatbot appearing within web pages, instant messaging, and virtual worlds.

Interestingly, the as-yet unnamed conversational agent is currently an open-source project, meaning that anyone can contribute to the development of the bot’s codebase. The project is still in its earlier stages, but has great potential to help scientists, researchers, and care teams better understand how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain. A Russian version of the bot is already available, and an English version is expected at some point this year.
Sometimes it is hard to discover if a conversational partner on the other end is a real person or a chatbot. In fact, it is getting harder as technology progresses. A well-known way to measure the chatbot intelligence in a more or less objective manner is the so-called Turing Test. This test determines how well a chatbot is capable of appearing like a real person by giving responses indistinguishable from a human’s response.

Several studies accomplished by analytics agencies such as Juniper or Gartner [34] report significant reduction of cost of customer services, leading to billions of dollars of economy in the next 10 years. Gartner predicts an integration by 2020 of chatbots in at least 85% of all client's applications to customer service. Juniper's study announces an impressive amount of $8 billion retained annually by 2022 due to the use of chatbots.
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
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. uses 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.
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