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:
The evolution of artificial intelligence is now in full swing and chatbots are only a faint splash on a huge wave of progress. Today the number of users of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, Skype and their analogs is skyrocketing, Facebook Messenger alone has more than 1.2 billion monthly users. With the spread of messengers, virtual chatterbots that imitate human conversations for solving various tasks are becoming increasingly in demand. Chinese WeChat bots can already set medical appointments, call a taxi, send money to friends, check in for a flight and many many other.
Chatbots could be used as weapons on the social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. An entity or individuals could design create a countless number of chatbots to harass people. They could even try to track how successful their harassment is by using machine-learning-based methods to sharpen their strategies and counteract harassment detection tools.
Tay, an AI chatbot that learns from previous interaction, caused major controversy due to it being targeted by internet trolls on Twitter. The bot was exploited, and after 16 hours began to send extremely offensive Tweets to users. This suggests that although the bot learnt effectively from experience, adequate protection was not put in place to prevent misuse.
The first formal instantiation of a Turing Test for machine intelligence is a Loebner Prize and has been organized since 1991. In a typical setup, there are three areas: the computer area with typically 3-5 computers, each running a stand-alone version (i.e. not connected with the internet) of the participating chatbot, an area for the human judges, typically four persons, and another area for the ‘confederates’, typically 3-5 voluntary humans, dependent on the number of chatbot participants. The human judges, working on their own terminal separated from one another, engage in a conversation with a human or a computer through the terminal, not knowing whether they are connected to a computer or a human. Then, they simply start to interact. The organizing committee requires that conversations are restricted to a single topic. The task for the human judges is to recognize chatbot responses and distinguish them from conversations with humans. If the judges cannot reliably distinguish the chatbot from the human, the chatbot is said to have passed the test.
Chatbot Eliza can be regarded as the ancestor and grandmother of the large chatbot family we have listed on our website. As you can see in our directory tab, there are hundreds of online chatbots available in the public domain, although we believe hundreds of thousands have been created by enthusiastic artificial intelligence amateurs on platforms such as Pandorabots, MyCyberTwin or Personality Forge AI. Most of these chatbots give similar responses, the default response, and it appears to take a long time and patience to train a chatbot in another field of expertise and not all amateur developers are willing to spend these vast amounts of time. Most of the chatbots created this way are no longer accessible. Only a small portion of fanatic botmasters manage to fight their way out of the crowd and get some visibility in the public domain.
Chatbots talk in almost every major language. Their language (Natural Language Processing, NLP) skills vary from extremely poor to very clever intelligent, helpful and funny. The same counts for their graphic design, sometimes it feels like a cartoonish character drawn by a child, and on the other hand there are photo-realistic 3D animated characters available, which are hard to distinguish from humans. And they are all referred to as ‘chatbots’. If you have a look at our chatbot gallery, you will immediately notice the difference.
Earlier, I made a rather lazy joke with a reference to the Terminator movie franchise, in which an artificial intelligence system known as Skynet becomes self-aware and identifies the human race as the greatest threat to its own survival, triggering a global nuclear war by preemptively launching the missiles under its command at cities around the world. (If by some miracle you haven’t seen any of the Terminator movies, the first two are excellent but I’d strongly advise steering clear of later entries in the franchise.)
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue 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".