Only recently have chatbots become a regular part of the way consumers reach out to businesses and engage with them in hopes of getting questions answered, orders placed, and business done. However, you may be surprised to learn that chatbots have been around since the mid-1960s. English computer scientist and pioneer Alan Turing’s famous “Turing Test'' in 1950 posed the question of whether a computer program could talk to a group of people without realizing that their interlocutor was artificial (Adamopoulous, E. & Moussiades, L., 2020). This essentially would be the genesis of chatbot technology.
Blogs upon blogs have been written, contesting whether chatbots truly are intelligent, so this blog will not try to do the same. Instead, it will shed light on the history of chatbots in two parts: the first part focusing on the early history of chatbots (i.e., 1960s-1990s) and the second part focusing on the later history of chatbots from the 2000s and beyond. A history of chatbots provides the scope needed to understand its technology, where it began, where it went, and where it is going. This, in turn, will segue into a discussion of the influences the history of chatbots have had on Botsplash, a SaaS company with a chatbot service.
In 1966, the world’s first chatterbot program - a computer program designed to interact with people by simulating human conversation - was created at the Artificial Intelligence (AI) laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by Joseph Weizenbaum. The chatterbot program ELIZA – named after Eliza Doolittle, one of the main characters from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion – was created to simulate human conversations using pre-programmed responses. ELIZA examined keywords received as user input, and then it triggered ELIZA’s preprogrammed output, based on a defined set of rules. It did not possess a framework for understanding the contexts of conversations and answered inquiries only by analyzing the prompts a user entered.