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.)
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
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.
Some bots communicate with other users of Internet-based services, via instant messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or another web interface such as Facebook Bots and Twitterbots. These chatterbots may allow people to ask questions in plain English and then formulate a proper response. These bots can often handle many tasks, including reporting weather, zip-code information, sports scores, converting currency or other units, etc. Others are used for entertainment, such as SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger.
This is where most applications of NLP struggle, and not just chatbots. Any system or application that relies upon a machine’s ability to parse human speech is likely to struggle with the complexities inherent in elements of speech such as metaphors and similes. Despite these considerable limitations, chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, responsive, and more “natural.”
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics.
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.
Love them or hate them, chatbots are here to stay. Chatbots have become extraordinarily popular in recent years largely due to dramatic advancements in machine learning and other underlying technologies such as natural language processing. Today’s chatbots are smarter, more responsive, and more useful – and we’re likely to see even more of them in the coming years.
The word robot is derived from the Czech noun robota meaning “labor”, and is an accomplishment of the cubist painter and writer Josef Capek, older brother of novelist and playwright Karel Capek. The word robot first appeared in 1920 in the Karel Capek’s play “RUR” (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”) and since then this play popularized the word invented by playwright’s brother.
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.)
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.