Whilst chatbot popularity has increased over the past 3 years, chatbots are actually a lot older than you may think.

ELIZA

The first chatbot was created at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizebaum. Its name was ELIZA, and it was created between 1964 and 1966 to demonstrate the shallowness of communication between man and machine.

ELIZA worked by examining keywords, which a lot of chatbots still do today. But unlike natural language processing in use today, ELIZA could only be improved through edits to its scripts and it couldn’t learn new patterns of speech.

Fun fact: ELIZA was named after Eliza Doolittle, the character in Bernard Shaw’s book Pygmalion, but probably best known through the movie My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle.

ELIZA was the first health chatbot. Sam, the Head to Health chatbot is a great example of how a chatbot can guide people to the right services for their particular condition.

Turing Test

Turing posed the question “Can machines think?”.

The Imitation Game is a great movie and while it highlights social injustices of the period it also detailed Turing’s fascination with man’s interaction with machines. He came up with the Turing Test, which tests a human’s ability to tell the difference between a conversation with a machine versus another human.

Now, while chatbot designers like to explicitly state to users that they are interacting with a chatbot the Turing Test is an important concept in artificial intelligence.

Loebner Prize

The Turing Test is used to determine the winners of the Loebner Prize. The Loebner Prize is an annual competition in artificial intelligence. Prizes are given to computer programs that the judges consider to be most human-like.

Mitsuku has won the Loebner Prize 5 times and, according to Mitsuku, is the world’s best conversational chatbot.

Increasing popularity

Why are chatbots gaining in popularity? User behaviour has changed and because of this so has the software industry. Messaging apps are huge and have led to more people using “chat”. The 24 hour availability of messaging apps means that people are used to chatting with and getting answers to their queries in real time.

This means that organisations need to keep up with consumer demand for real time interaction. The easiest and most cost-affordable way to do this is through chatbots. Your chatbot can answer customer questions and push them through the sales funnel out of hours while your staff are offline. Customers have come to expect this real time connectivity with businesses.

The rise of machines

Today, according to Facebook statistics there are more than 300,000 chatbots on Facebook alone. Businesses and customers sent around 8 billion messages a day on Messenger during 2019.

According to Sales Force, 53% of service organisations plan on using chatbots within 18 months. The chatbot will answer general customer queries and sales, freeing up staff to handle more complex enquiries. This should save the company money and improve customer satisfaction.

While the last 5 decades have seen a huge growth in the use of chatbots and improvements in their abilities to interact with users it will be interesting to see what developments occur over the next decade.