“Utility gets something done following a prompt. At a higher level the more entertainment-related chatbots are able to answer all questions and get things done. Siri and Cortana you can have small talk with, as well as getting things done, so they are much harder to build. They took years and years of giant company’s efforts. Different companies that don’t have those resources, like Facebook, will build more constrained utility bots.”
One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. utilises a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.
Conversational bots work in a similar way as an employee manning a customer care desk. When a customer asks for assistance, the conversational bot is the medium responding. If a customer asks the question, “What time does your store close on Friday?” the conversational bot would respond the same as a human would, based on the information available. “Our store closes at 5pm on Friday.”
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.)
A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the man-power or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.
Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations says: “I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t think we’re going to see this mass exodus of people stopping building apps and going to build bots. I think they’re going to build bots in addition to the app that they have or the service they provide,” as reported by re/code.
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".