A Brief History of Chatbots

As BYU’s graduate and undergraduate students work tirelessly to create EVE, we wanted to take a step back and look at the history of chatbots. This is not a comprehensive history of chatbots; rather, a short article to highlight some of the most influential chatbots.

1950: It all began in 1950, when Alan Turing, an English computer scientist, threw down the gauntlet by publishing an article entitled “Computer Machinery and Intelligence.”

“I propose to consider [a] question,” he wrote. “‘Can machines think?’” In his article, he outlined the Turing Test, a way to measure whether one was speaking to a human or to a chatbot. In many ways, this was the beginning of AI, a test to discover the answer to his question.

1966: Eager computer scientist and contemporaries of Turing tried to pass his test. ELIZA, created in 1966 by Joseph Weizenbaum, was one of the first chatbots. Although she was able to fool some users into thinking that they were actually talking to a human, she failed the Turing Test. Despite that, the principles used in ELIZA laid a foundation for the structures of chatbots, such as keywords, specific phrases, and preprogrammed responses.

1972: Kenneth Colby came out with PARRY, a chatbot that could simulate a person with paranoid schizophrenia. In a test given to psychiatrists, only 48% were able to identify the difference between PARRY and a real person.

1995: A popular online bot was A.L.I.C.E., a language-processing bot. Although she was unable to pass the Turing Test, she did receive many other rewards for being the most advanced bot of her time.

2001: That is, until Smarterchild came out. In many ways, it was the precursor to Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S Voice.

2010-2015: Over the next decade or so, bots became very popular among big tech companies, starting with in Siri (2010), Google Now (2012), Alexa (2015), and Cortana in (2015). These bots are able to respond to voice commands, play music, and perform internet searches, among other tasks.

Present: Amazon wants to improve Alexa by making her an intelligent socialbot that can have conversations with anyone, and about anything. The undergraduate and graduate students at BYU have been building on the work of past computer scientists to take AI to the next level. Before, chatbots ran on keywords and specific phrases; now, they are creating chatbots that function based on neural networks and machine learning. It is incredible to see the progress made with AI, and it is exciting to think about the progress that will come in the future.