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:
ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
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).". They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety. A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.
A malicious use of bots is the coordination and operation of an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. Internet bots can also be used to commit click fraud and more recently have seen usage around MMORPG games as computer game bots. A spambot is an internet bot that attempts to spam large amounts of content on the Internet, usually adding advertising links. More than 94.2% of websites have experienced a bot attack.
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.
A rapidly growing, benign, form of internet bot is the chatbot. From 2016, when Facebook Messenger allowed developers to place chatbots on their platform there has been an exponential growth of their use on that forum alone. 30,000 bots were created for Messenger in the first six months, rising to 100,000 by September 2017. Avi Ben Ezra, CTO of SnatchBot, told Forbes that evidence from the use of their chatbot building platform pointed to a near future saving of millions of hours of human labour as 'live chat' on websites was replaced with bots.
The word bot, in Internet sense, is a short form of robot and originates from XX century. The modern use of the word bot has curious affinities with earlier uses, e.g. “parasitical worm or maggot” (1520s), of unknown origin; and Australian-New Zealand slang “worthless, troublesome person” (World War I -era). The method of minting new slang by clipping the heads off respectable words does not seem to be old or widespread in English. Examples: za from pizza, zels from pretzels, rents from parents, are American English student or teen slang and seem to date back no further than late 1960s.
Since the steep rise of available hardware and software platforms lately, nowadays chatbots are available everywhere. Originally, they were very tight to computers, then exchangeable through tapes, discs and floppy discs, but since the Internet era they have been widespread. For example ancient chatbot Eliza is now also available on iPhone, while famous chatbot A.L.I.C.E. is available on Facebook.
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. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.
“There is hope that consumers will be keen on experimenting with bots to make things happen for them. It used to be like that in the mobile app world 4+ years ago. When somebody told you back then… ‘I have built an app for X’… You most likely would give it a try. Now, nobody does this. It is probably too late to build an app company as an indie developer. But with bots… consumers’ attention spans are hopefully going to be wide open/receptive again!” — Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst