January 19, 2017
In 2013, much of world (and I) were smitten with the award-winning movie ‘Her’. It was a rather entertaining movie; one that featured the lead actor, Joaquin Phoenix, falling in love with – wait for it – a computer system powered by Artificial Intelligence! So deep and moving was the man-machine love story that it raised the question – exactly how smart have the machines become? Turns out, quite a lot.
Chatbots first made an appearance in 1966. She was called ELIZA. (Yes, the bot was not only christened but also given a pronoun). Developed by German scientist Joseph Weizenbaum, the bot had roughly 200 lines of code and was capable of mimicking human conversations so accurately that she could fool others into believing that she was human! Above all, it was ELIZA’s ability to pass the Turing Test, a test to determine intelligence based on how well it could impersonate human behavior, that made her particularly popular. ELIZA was succeeded by PARRY in 1972 – a more advanced version which bore the nickname, ‘ELIZA with an Attitude’. From thereon, the bots only kept getting bolder, better, and well, smaller in size.
Today, chatbots are even taking on a number of human skills. We have chatbots for customer services which means the next time someone inquires about when their purchase will be delivered, it could be a chatbot answering their query. That’s not all. If you can’t figure out why your baby is red with rashes, a chatbot will help you fix a doctor’s appointment. Likewise, other sectors such as insurance and banking also make use of chatbots. By communicating through natural conversation patterns, bots can answer relevant questions, coordinate activities, make financial statements, and even order you a pizza with choice of assorted toppings. According to Mircosoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, bots are the new apps. By enabling conversation-based interactions (as compared to apps where customers navigate between static pages and drop-down menus) chatbots are on their way to making apps extinct.
Back when I was a kid, my favorite cartoons were The Flintstones and The Jetsons – two drastically different and utopian worlds that were centuries apart; one way before my time and the other so far into the future, I thought I’d never see it happen. Turns out, I may have undermined technology just a little bit.
World, meet chatbots.
Stories by Michale Eric