Testing chatterbots is an occupation as old as chatterbots themselves. There are different chatterbot contests in existence:
The Turing Test is based upon a game devised by Alan Turing in the 1950s. In its basic common form, a person is connected via a terminal to a human and a machine: by asking questions, the person tries to determine who is responding - the computer or the real person. If they cannot tell the difference after five minutes, the computer is deemed to have won. Turing predicted that machines would be capable of being as human as humans by the end of the twentieth century... but it seems as if it will be some years yet before this dream becomes reality.
Since 1991, an annual Turing Test has been sponsored by Hugh Loebner. The Loebner Prize offers $100 000 to the author of the first program which passes the test. In 2001, the previous year's winner, Alice, actually managed to persuade one judge that it was a human being. But overall, no chatterbot came close to convincing all the judges that they were really a human. Some people say that the rules of the Loebner Prize create a situation where some consider that in order to win, a chatterbot needs to be able to trick the judges, rather than showing true intelligence.
A fun contest, where the public is invited to vote and rank chatterbots according to their own criteria. Open to all botmasters and chatterbot creators, it seeks to familiarize the public with this exciting new technology. A panel of expert judges and the public vote will decide the best bot among the contestants. AgentLand is sponsoring the prizes for the 2002 edition of the Chatterbox Challenge.
Although chatterbots have existed since the 1960s, there has been a clear increase in interest in these technologies since the generalization of the Internet. Internet has at the same time made chatterbots accessible to the general public, and created a real need for web sites to have a human-like interface to cheerfully provide information to thousands of people a day.
In turn, more and more effort is going into chatterbot research and development, among both computer enthusiasts and commercial ventures. Although acquiring human intelligence remains a distant dream, chatterbot technology can only keep improving, to meet the ever-growing need for communication and information. It seems sure that chatterbots have a significant role to play on the Internet of the future. After all, wouldn't you rather speak to a person, even a virtual one, than a machine?