Your constantly-updated definition of Chatbots and collection of videos and articles

What are Chatbots?

Chatbots are computer programs that simulate human conversation with an end user. Though not all chatbots are equipped with artificial intelligence (AI), modern chatbots increasingly use conversational AI techniques like natural language processing (NLP) to understand the user’s questions and automate responses to them.

History of Chatbots

The term “chatbot” was coined in 1994 by Michael Mauldin, the creator of one of the first chatbots, Verbot. However, the concept of chatbots dates back to 1950, when Alan Turing proposed the Turing test, a criterion for judging whether a machine can exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of a human.

Verbot 5 virtual human interface, Sylvie, Fair Use

One of the earliest examples of chatbots was Eliza, a program developed by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966 that mimicked a psychotherapist and used pattern matching and substitution to generate responses. Another early example was Parry, a program designed by Kenneth Colby in 1972 that simulated a paranoid schizophrenic and used a rule-based system to model human emotions.

Eliza Chatbot by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966

Public Domain

Learn more about Eliza in this clip of Elaine Anzaldo, a Conversation Designer at Meta.

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In the 1980s and 1990s, chatbots became more popular and sophisticated, with examples such as Racter, a program that generated random sentences and stories; Jabberwacky, a program that learned from user input and aimed to pass the Turing test; and Alice, a program that used an XML-based language called Aiml to create natural language responses.

In the 2000s and 2010s, chatbots started to use more advanced AI techniques, such as machine learning, deep learning, and natural language understanding, to process natural language and generate more relevant and personalized responses. Some examples of these chatbots are Siri, an intelligent virtual assistant developed by Apple; Alexa, a smart virtual assistant developed by Amazon; Watson Assistant, an enterprise conversational AI platform developed by IBM; and Xiaoice, a social chatbot developed by Microsoft.

Types of Chatbots

Different types of chatbots are based on various criteria, such as functionality, architecture, interface, or domain. Here are some common types of chatbots:

  • Based on functionality: Chatbots can be either task-oriented or chat-oriented. Task-oriented chatbots perform specific tasks or provide information for users, such as booking flights, ordering food, or checking the weather. Chat-oriented chatbots engage in casual or social conversation with users, such as providing entertainment, companionship, or emotional support. Watch Elaine Anzaldo, a Conversation Designer at Meta, describe conversation design.

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  • Based on architecture: Chatbots can be either rule-based or AI-based. Rule-based chatbots use predefined rules and responses that match user input based on keywords or patterns. AI-based chatbots rely on machine learning algorithms that are trained with user input and data to generate responses based on natural language understanding and generation.

  • Based on interface: Chatbots can be either text-based or voice-based. Text-based chatbots communicate with users through text messages or chats on various platforms, such as websites, apps, or messaging applications. Voice-based chatbots communicate with users through voice commands or conversations on various devices, such as smart speakers, phones, or computers.

  • Based on domain: Chatbots can be either open-domain or closed-domain. Open-domain chatbots can handle any topic or domain of conversation with users, such as general knowledge, trivia, or chit-chat. Closed-domain chatbots can only handle specific topics or domains of conversation with users, such as finance, health, or education.

Opera's Aria AI-based chatbot describes what a chatbot is.

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What Are the Challenges for Chatbots?

Chatbots also face some challenges and limitations that need to be addressed. Some of the challenges are:

  • Technical challenges: Chatbots must deal with various technical issues, such as data quality and quantity, language diversity and complexity, speech recognition and synthesis, context awareness and retention, emotion detection and expression, personality and style consistency.

  • Ethical challenges: Chatbots must adhere to various ethical principles and standards, such as transparency and accountability, privacy and security, fairness and bias, trustworthiness and reliability, and social responsibility.

The Future of Chatbots

The future of chatbots is bright and promising, as they are becoming more intelligent, versatile, and personalized. Chatbots are transforming how businesses communicate with customers, collect data, and provide services. Chatbots are also expanding their reach to different domains and platforms, such as ecommerce, social media, healthcare, education, and more. Here are some of the main trends and predictions for chatbots in the near future:

  • Chatbots will use advanced artificial intelligence and natural language processing to understand complex queries, provide relevant answers, and generate natural conversations. Chatbots will also be able to learn from user feedback and preferences and adapt their responses accordingly.

  • Chatbots will be integrated with virtual assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, to provide a seamless and consistent user experience across different devices and channels. Chatbots can also access other services and applications through APIs and perform tasks such as booking travel, ordering food, or making payments.

  • Chatbots will become more personalized and human-like, using emotions, humor, and personality to engage with users. Chatbots will also use voice and video capabilities to enhance their interactions and create a more immersive experience. Chatbots will also be able to recognize users’ faces, speech, and moods and respond accordingly.

  • Chatbots will be used for more than just customer service and data collection. They will also be used for marketing, sales, human resources, operations, and other functions. Chatbots will be able to generate leads, recommend products, provide training, automate workflows, and more. Chatbots will also be able to collaborate with other chatbots and humans to achieve complex goals.

These are some of the possible scenarios for the future of chatbots, but there are many more possibilities and challenges ahead. Chatbots are constantly evolving and improving, and they have the potential to revolutionize the way we communicate and interact with technology.

Learn More about Chatbots

Questions related to Chatbots

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that can simulate human conversations using text or voice. Chatbots can interact with users through various platforms, such as websites, mobile apps, social media, messaging apps, and voice assistants. Chatbots can provide information, answer questions, perform tasks, or entertain users.

What are the types of chatbots?

There are two main types of chatbots: rule-based and AI-based. Rule-based chatbots use predefined rules and decision trees to generate responses based on keywords and patterns. AI-based chatbots use machine learning and natural language processing to learn from user input and generate more personalized and context-aware responses.

How do chatbots work?

Chatbots work by following a basic process:

  • First, the chatbot receives the user’s input, which can be text or speech.

  • Second, the chatbot analyzes the user’s input and extracts the intent and entities. The intent is the goal or purpose of the user’s input, such as booking a flight, ordering a pizza, or asking for the weather. The entities are the specific details or parameters related to the intent, such as the destination, the toppings, or the date.

  • Third, the chatbot generates a response based on the intent and entities. The response can be a simple text or speech output or a complex action that involves accessing other services or applications through APIs. The response can include follow-up questions or suggestions to keep the conversation going.

  • Fourth, the chatbot sends the response to the user and waits for the next input.

What are the benefits of chatbots?

Chatbots have many benefits for both businesses and users, such as:

  • Chatbots can improve customer service and satisfaction by providing 24/7 support, instant answers, and personalized solutions.

  • Chatbots can increase sales and conversions by engaging customers, recommending products, and facilitating transactions.

  • Chatbots can reduce costs and save time by automating repetitive tasks, streamlining workflows, and optimizing resources.

  • Chatbots can enhance user experience and loyalty by creating interactive and immersive interactions, offering feedback and rewards, and learning from user preferences.

What are some examples of chatbots?

There are many examples of chatbots in various industries and domains, such as:

  • Customer service chatbots: These chatbots help customers with common queries, issues, or complaints. For example, Sephora uses a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to provide beauty tips, product recommendations, and booking services.

  • E-commerce chatbots: These chatbots help customers with shopping online. For example, H&M uses a chatbot on Kik to offer style advice, outfit suggestions, and purchase options.

  • Healthcare chatbots: These chatbots help patients with health-related questions or concerns. For example, Ada is a chatbot app that helps users diagnose their symptoms, find possible causes, and get appropriate guidance.

  • Education chatbots: These chatbots help students with learning or studying. For example, Duolingo is a chatbot app that helps users learn new languages through interactive conversations.

  • Entertainment chatbots: These chatbots help users with fun or leisure activities. For example, [Replika] is a chatbot app that helps users create their own personal AI companion to talk to anytime.

What is an AI chatbot?

An AI chatbot is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, such as machine learning and natural language processing, to understand the user’s questions and generate responses. AI chatbots can provide more accurate, relevant, and personalized answers than traditional chatbots that rely on predefined scripts or keywords.

Some examples of AI chatbots are:

  • IBM watsonx Assistant: A chatbot platform that allows businesses to create and deploy conversational AI solutions across various channels, such as websites, mobile apps, voice assistants, and messaging platforms. IBM watsonx Assistant uses natural language understanding (NLU) to discern the meaning and intent of user input and natural language generation (NLG) to produce natural and engaging responses.

  • Drift: A chatbot software that helps businesses generate and qualify leads, book meetings, and provide customer support. Drift uses conversational AI to create personalized and human-like conversations with website visitors, and integrates with various tools such as email, CRM, and calendar

  • Airdroid: A chatbot development platform that enables developers to build and deploy AI chatbots for various use cases, such as e-commerce, education, healthcare, and entertainment. Airdroid uses NLP and machine learning to create chatbots that can understand natural language, handle multiple intents, and provide contextual responses

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Literature on Chatbots

Here’s the entire UX literature on Chatbots by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

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