AgentLand's very own chatterbot, Cybelle, creates a mixture of curiosity, amusement, frustration and desire among the people that talk to her. But she is just one of a large and ever-growing family of chatterbots.
What is a chatterbot?
A chatterbot is a computer program for simulating conversation between a human and a machine. You input a question or statement of any kind, and the chatterbot replies, just as a person would (using its own version of logic!). Chatterbots try to create the illusion that an authentic exchange is taking place between two thinking, living entities. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to remember that you are not talking to a real person. Other times, it's all too obvious...
The origins of chatterbots can be traced back to 1950, when the British mathematician Alan Turing famously asked the question: "Can machines think?". It was a good question, and many people have since spent considerable amounts of time and effort in trying to prove that the answer is 'yes'. Researchers in artificial intelligence have devoted much time and effort to trying to understand human cognitive capacities and adapt them to machines. Chatterbots represent just one aspect of this research.
The first chatterbot, named Eliza, appeared all the way back in 1966. Eliza was created by Dr. Joseph Weizenbaum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was intended to resemble a Rogerian psychologist. When a human spoke to Eliza, she returned the sentence in the form of a question, thus inviting the user to give further explanation, ad infinitum. Not exactly a high level of conversation, but nonetheless ingenious and sufficiently 'intelligent' to cause confusion at a time when people were not used to interacting with computers.
Some say that chatterbots have struggled to go beyond the level of Eliza. But if we consider the question in terms of developing applications, rather than robotic human beings, we can see that chatterbots increasingly have a role to play in humanizing the Internet. With the explosion of the Web, more and more chatterbots are making their appearance on-line. So have they risen to the challenge lain down by Turing? Can machines think yet?