ELIZA is a chatbot built in 1966, coded with around 200 lines and inspired by a 1950’s Alan Turing paper about “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. She was the first of her kind and this is where the story begins. With its creation came the “ELIZA effect”, referring to people confusing ELIZA with a real person, even if they know it is a machine. This is the result of a subtle cognitive dissonance when your brain is confronted to a program acting like a human, and is most likely why people have a special attraction for efficient bots, that are slowly integrating our lives.
I meet my first bot in 2002 on an IRC chat server. It was a moderation program designed to ban people, run quizzes or take polls. Since then, I cannot begin to list how many times I came accross bots. You’ve probably lived the same thing!
When mobile phones first appeared, bots were here to take your voicemails. In Microsoft Office 97, Clippy, the famous paperclip assistant was here to help and improve your user experience. In video games, where they’re called non player characters (NPCs), bots have been popular for decades. Games like Skyrim, Mass Effect or Final Fantasy were really successful due to truthful interactions between players and NPCs that immersed the player in a virtual world.
So, if developers have been creating bots for so long, why are they more trendy today than yesterday?
2016, the year of bots
Regardless how cool those bots were, they remained mechanical and weren’t able to work without strict commands. But in 40 years, since we’ve discovered the first machine learning algorithm, we’ve made a hell lot of progress. One of the main thematics of artificial intelligence is natural language processing, and its ever increasing capabilities are today allowing natural language chatting with bots. That means we don’t have to stick to predefined answers, we can simply talk. Plus, they’re faster than people, they’re never tired, can answer to millions people at the same time and don’t need to sleep, eat, or spend time with their loved ones.
According to a Comscore study, 77% of smartphones have a chat application installed. Guess what? That’s the perfect place for a chatbot. Messaging apps have surpassed social networks in terms of recurring users, meaning that they are the hub of people’s digital lives. This is why Facebook is integrating tools for bots development and developing Messenger’s bot user interface. Clearly, they believe companies will fall under the spell of bots in no time, and they’re very right.
How can companies benefit from bots? They can more easily answer questions or dispatch informations to their clients, do extensive promotion of their services or enhance product visibility, all in a very natural way: a whole new world!
Today, picking up your phone and sending a message to the Amazon chatbot asking “when will my package show up at my door?” is already a very present use case. Ordering a Uber just by sending a SMS to their bot is way faster and easier than using the app.
Today, you can use Meekan to book a meeting between people! Integrated in your chat, it reads the conversation and finds the perfect date.
You can ask Instalocate to track your flight and know exactly where your plane is up in the air.
You can get more information about Anne Francks’s life and house with the Anne Franck museum chatbot.
There is also Christopher bot to track your homework and add them to your agenda, DoNotPay to advise people on whether they should contest traffic tickets, Foxsy to meet new people, and many more.
Chatbots are even breaking the fourth wall and entering our lives with robotics! The robot Nao, built by Aldebaran, it is used in elderly care for physical and mental health. Alexa from Amazon and Google home from Google are bots inside a connected object you can locate in your home to control domotics.
If we had to list all bots, we’d be here for months. You can explore the bot world here in Kik’s bot shop, Telegram’s bot store or Botlist.
2025, the year of “bots are a normal part of life”
As you can see, use cases are wide, today they can converse with us. What’s next? In five or ten years, they’ll be amazing at human chit chat and will be intricately connected with our lives. How will they evolve ?
It is easy to cross conversational agents with other emerging technology. With NLP and deep learning, we can easily imagine really smart personal assistants connected to all our network and devices. Detecting our feeling and our needs in real time, this assistant could be able to suggest things for us or take small decisions! Ordering food if your fridge is empty, telling you to take pills if you forget them, assessing the real estate market to find the perfect house because you are talking about investing with your wife, calling the emergencies if you faint or pushing connected relationships to another level.
Our self-driving cars are and will also be powered by artificial intelligence, allowing us to control them only with our voice. We can also go further and imagine you car actually talking to your let you know your engine has a problem or your braking fluid is low.
Tesla is already working on car with only one screen in replacement of the traditional board control their upcoming product.
And we can only keep moving forward! When you add virtual reality into the mix, you can actually give these bots a face and identity! You could begin addressing the avatar of your car in the most natural way ever, and even personalize its voice, looks and personality.
And well, virtual reality goes further than just cars and avatars, but I’m not going to blow your mind when I mention going to the movies or trying out a new video game in VR. That can happen in the upcoming years.
Let’s take a minute to discuss sectors that will be impacted by AI less drastically. Art and sports, for examples, will be tremendously changed: computers composing songs, touching up photos, creating special effects for the next blockbuster. Hell! They could even write the movie scripts or books themselves. If you’re intrigued, read up on that.
The advances in natural language processing would also allow people who don’t know how to read or write to use computers, drastically increasing multiculturalism and education. Everything is possible.
So, hey, chatbots are actors in the first wave of the artificial intelligence revolution, a new era, a new market, growing everyday. Who knows what they’ll lead up to? All I know is that if you want to be part of it, give us a call.