Chatbots have been around a lot longer than you think

The technology world has decided to embrace chatbots in a big way. After Microsoft, Facebook has placed heavy bets on chatbots. And the rest of us wonder how this really impacts us. It may be a technological innovation, but its impact and influence isn't restricted to the tech world. We're all set to undergo a transformation in the way we interact with machines – hardware and software.

What exactly are bots, again?

Bots and robotics are similar, yet different. I agree, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Heard of artificial intelligence? Vaguely the Steven Spielberg kind, but not exactly. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, robotics was the coolest thing around. Our generation of millennials witnessed human-machine interaction while growing up. And so when millennials go on to head tech companies, the products they create seem to be naturally inspired by the thought of AI and its evolution. The year 2000, which was supposed to bring in the advent of machines, didn't quite make that mark.

Fifteen years have passed by, and machines haven’t yet harmed our lives to the extent we had envisioned.

Chatbots are different though

So when Microsoft announces a whole new bouquet of chatbots and bots-related tools that developers could use, it does mean a big deal. Add to that, a couple of weeks later, Facebook also announces that chatbots are going to be a significant development over the next decade at Facebook.

What happened to real people?

When we first heard of the idea of chatbots, we couldn’t help but wonder. What happens to our interaction with real people? Imagine being frustrated due to bad customer service, and having a bot resolving your queries! Without the yelling, or the raising temper. The most you could do is bang the keys on the keyboard. Or your touchscreen! Soon, all those hundreds of customer service executives would be down to a handful.

If you think we're finally at the brink of artificial intelligence shaping our lives, then you would be surprised to know that chatbots have been existing around the world, for way too long! Here are a few examples.

WeChat

When Microsoft announced its plans to open up chatbots as a platform, it mentioned WeChat and how the bots in the Chinese messaging platform are huge. In fact, bots on WeChat help users order everything from a cup of coffee from a localised retail chain modelled around Starbucks to even finding a job!

ALICE

This one's an acronym. Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity. How nerdy does that sound. Sounds like geek dream come true. But you could try her out. No really, she's got a sense of humour. What do you do when your editor asks you to file a story on bots? Yes, you guessed it right. You while away a Friday evening with ALICE. Because there's clearly a lot of time at hand.

Meet ALICE. The conversation above is with a computer program. But it does seem to have a sense of humour of its own.

Meet ALICE. The conversation above is with a computer program. But it does seem to have a sense of humour of its own.

If ALICE has impressed you, then consider this – my job does seem to face a new threat. Popular news agency Associated Press already uses a bot to package reports on earnings. And the company that created the product has decided to make the service free!

Meet Chomsky

Chomsky is yet another bot that's been around for a while now. It further simplifies your life by giving you a preset list of questions that you could select from. I happened to ask him what the meaning of life is.

Chomsky chatbot

I certainly thought life was more complicated than 42, but Chomsky's learns everything from Wikipedia and it has found the answer to life. In the words of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

Mitsuku

Lastly, what could the ideal purpose of AI or chatbots be, if there's no fun in it? Meet Mitsuku who's waiting to be your friend. She's been recognised as the most human-like robot.

non_flash_mitsuku

 

Mitsuku is your friendly bot you could spend all the time you have chatting with. Simply ask her all the questions you have and she'd happily engage in some friendly chat. Mitsuku promises 'you'll never feel lonely again!'

Loebner Prize

Hugh Loebner established the Loebner Prize. The objective of the Loebner Prize is to identify and recognise bots that are as human-like as possible. What originally started at $2000 has now surpassed $25000 in prize money. In fact, the prize now offers $100000 to a chatterbot that judges cannot distinguish from another human being.


Published Date: Apr 16, 2016 03:40 pm | Updated Date: Apr 16, 2016 03:40 pm