Abhimanyu Godara

A brief history of bots

and what lies ahead…

To put it simply, a chatbot is a great piece of software that lets you communicate with a company or a person digitally, usually via text or messaging apps.

Remember when you’d call a company’s customer service number and be made to punch a number to pick a menu option?

Bots can currently do that (and more), all via text. Most bots currently exist on messaging platforms like Messenger and Slack, but let’s take a look at where chatbots started.

Back in the 1960s, MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed ELIZA, the first ever chatbot, that could “interact” with people like a psychotherapist would. He used a script that would recognize certain patterns and keywords, and generate a response accordingly — usually asking the patient how they felt about the issue at hand.

Initially developed as a parody of “the responses of a non-directional psychotherapist in an initial psychiatric interview”, and meant to prove how superficial communication between man and machine could be, he was surprised by how deeply connected people became with the program, some even forming an emotional bond with it.

ELIZA inspired a whole host of chatbots (or chatterbots) after it, like ALICE, Mitsuku, Albert One, and probably the most popular of the lot, SmarterChild. Developed in 2000, SmarterChild took advantage of the popularity of text messaging services and added the very cool ability to process natural language — or, simply put, it understood human-speak. And responded!

SmarterChild was eventually able to handle a wide variety of topics, ranging from sports and weather to news and movie timings. In many ways, SmarterChild paved the way for services like Siri.

It’s now hard to imagine a world without Siri and other voice-based assistants, but a few years ago, the notion of talking to your phone to tell it what to do seemed ludicrous.

We’re on a similar brink right now, with chatbots being touted as “ the next big thing”, but no one is quite sure how or why.

The most acceptable opinion seems to be that they will replace most apps. The time and effort required, not only to build an app, but also to download and use one seems to negate its advantages.

We’ve all felt the familiar twinge of annoyance when our phones have no space for new apps, or we just don’t want more boxes on our already overcrowded phone screens. Companies realise this, but still want to connect with their customers — enter the chatbot.

At BOTTR.me we believe that the biggest advantage a bot currently has is that it requires no additional thinking. We all know how to text — there is nothing new to adapt to. It’s the easiest thing in the world to shoot off a quick text!

Is this the only scenario though? It’s early days yet, and this is one use case that seems to be very popular and easy to adapt. Messaging apps have taken over, and are now more widely used than most social networks. It’s no surprise then that businesses targeting millennials would want to ride the wave of popularity and get texting.