These are hardly ideas of Hollywood’s science fiction. Even when the Starbucks bot can sound like Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha, the public will be unimpressed — we would prefer a real human interaction. Yet the public won’t have a choice; efficient task-oriented dialog agents will be the automatic vending machines and airport check-in kiosks of the near future.
“I believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second. A lot of the dreamers are science fiction authors, they’re artists…They invent these ideas, and they get catalogued as impossible. And we find out later, well, maybe it’s not impossible. Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.”
A chatbot (sometimes referred to as a chatterbot) is programming that simulates the conversation or "chatter" of a human being through text or voice interactions. Chatbot virtual assistants are increasingly being used to handle simple, look-up tasks in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) environments. The addition of chatbot assistants not only reduces overhead costs by making better use of support staff time, it also allows companies to provide a level of customer service during hours when live agents aren't available.
Malicious chatbots are frequently used to fill chat rooms with spam and advertisements, by mimicking human behavior and conversations or to entice people into revealing personal information, such as bank account numbers. They are commonly found on Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and other instant messaging protocols. There has also been a published report of a chatbot used in a fake personal ad on a dating service's website.
As AOL's David Shingy writes in Adweek, "The challenge [with chatbots] will be thinking about creative from a whole different view: Can we have creative that scales? That customizes itself? We find ourselves hurtling toward another handoff from man to machine -- what larger system of creative or complex storytelling structure can I design such that a machine can use it appropriately and effectively?"
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".