Chatbot

What is a Chatbot?

A chatbot (also known as a chatterbot or virtual assistant) is a computer program that’s designed to emulate human conversation and to converse with human users.

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Many virtual assistants, such as ChatGPT and Gemini are AI-driven. They use techniques like natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to analyze and respond to user inputs.

Techopedia Explains the Chatbot Meaning

Techopedia Explains the Chatbot Meaning

A chatbot’s primary meaning is a program that can interact with users. Many virtual assistants or chatbots will use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to process and respond to user inputs in multiple formats, such as text and voice.

That being said, while some chatbots use AI to process and respond to user inputs, not all do. For example, an FAQ-style chatbot could be given a pre-programmed list of responses to certain questions.

History of Chatbots

Under our chatbot definition, the first chatbot can be traced back to ELIZA, a chatbot developed in the 1960s by MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum. Released in 1966, ELIZA emulated a Rogerian psychotherapist and used natural language processing to pair user inputs with a list of scripted responses. These capabilities made it able to mimic human conversation.

Another key milestone in the development of virtual assistant technology was the creation of a chatbot known as Jabberwacky by British computer scientist Rollo Carpenter in 1989. This chatbot was designed to simulate human interaction and could interact with users via text.

While ELIZA and Jabberwacky were ahead of their time, it would take until 2009 and the release of the Chinese app, WeChat for chatbots capabilities to really start to evolve. WeChat’s chatbot has become a staple tool for creating chatbots.

However, the boundaries of chatbot AI would really start to be pushed just a year later when Apple launched Siri, a virtual assistant that was made via the iPhone 4S in October 2011. Users could interact with Siri via voice and ask questions on a variety of topics.

Around this time, similar voice-driven chatbots were released by Google and Microsoft with Google Assistant and Cortana in 2012 and 2014,  but the most significant was undoubtedly the launch of Amazon Alexa in 2014 alongside its Echo line of devices.

Finally, in 2022 OpenAI announced the launch of ChatGPT, its flagship generative AI chatbot, which has ignited a wave of hype behind the technology ever since.

How a Chatbot Works

Typically a user enters an input into a user interface via text or voice. The chatbot then uses natural language processing to analyze the request, scanning for particular keywords and phrases and then taking one of the following actions:

  • Search a database of pre-programmed responses and provide a relevant answer.
  • Use natural language generation to create a response based on its training data.

Each of these two actions enables the chatbot to generate an output that responds to the user’s input with relevant information. The user can then ask follow-up questions if they require more assistance.

Types of Chatbots

It’s important to highlight that chatbots come in many different shapes and sizes. Some of the most common types of chatbots are outlined below:

Menu-Based Chatbots
These are chatbots that users can interact with by clicking on buttons. Clicking on a button will generate a scripted response. This can help automate simple customer service interactions but is unsuitable for responding to more complex queries. 

Rules-Based Chatbots
This type of chatbot uses if/then logic. So if a user enters a certain input or question, the chatbot will scan it for keywords and then use one of its predefined answers to respond to the user’s input. These chatbots are good at answering basic, frequently asked questions but will struggle with unexpected and complex user queries. 

AI-Powered Chatbots
AI-driven chatbots use AI and natural language understanding and natural language processing to understand a user’s question and provide a contextually relevant response. These conversational AI solutions are capable of back-and-forth conversations and remember past inputs. 
Voice Chatbots
Voice chatbots enable users to interact with a chatbot with voice commands. These solutions use a mixture of technologie, including text-to-speech, speech-to-text, natural language processing, and natural language understanding to interpret and respond to spoken questions and commands.
Generative AI Chatbots
Generative AI chatbots use LLMs to respond to users’ questions. This is different from conversational AI because its focused on content generation rather than simply mimicking human conversations. 

Chatbot Use Cases

Today, chatbots can be used in a wide range of scenarios. Some of the most common use cases are as follows:

Research AssistantContent Creation Customer ServiceMarketing

Users can use a chatbot connected to the Internet, such as Perplexity AI or Gemini, to query publicly scraped content to assist, when researching a given topic.

Generative Aid-riven chatbots such as ChatGPT or Claude 3 can be used to generate content on demand.

Menu-based chatbots and rule-based chatbots can be used to automate customer service tasks, from asking questions about item specifications, delivery policies, and returns policies, to making a complaint, leaving a review, or requesting access to a human customer support agent.

Chatbots can be used for marketing via your website so that whenever a user visits your sit, they have a chat interface to chat and ask questions about an organization’s services, download a free trial, chat with a human sales agent, and other basic tasks.

Chatbot Pros and Cons

Using chatbots comes with a number of distinct advantages and disadvantages. Some of the main pros and cons are outlined below:

Pros

  • Enhance customer service
  • Increase sales
  • Reduce costs

Cons

  • Lack of a personal touch
  • Accuracy
  • Upfront costs
  • Increase complexity

The Future of Chatbots

The future of chatbots looks bright, with new innovations arriving all the time. Just last year, we saw the launch of chatbots, including GPT-4, Claude, Bing Chat, Gemini, Grok, and Llama 2. Later this year, it is expected that we will see the launch of high-performance LLMs including GPT-5 and Llama 3.

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing, particularly with generative AI-powered chatbots is the move toward multimodality – the ability to handle inputs in multiple formats.

Modern chatbots are being developed with the ability to process and respond to text, image, voice, and video inputs rather than being limited to plain text interactions.

The Bottom Line

Chatbots have gradually entered enterprise workflows as a staple tool. While they aren’t suitable for every scenario, they do provide an option to automate basic repeatable tasks and, in the future, will be able to respond to user requests much more reliably.

FAQs

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Tim Keary
Technology Specialist

Tim Keary is a freelance technology writer and reporter covering AI, cybersecurity, and enterprise technology. Before joining Techopedia full-time in 2023, his work appeared on VentureBeat, Forbes Advisor, and other notable technology platforms, where he covered the latest trends and innovations in technology. He holds a Master’s degree in History from the University of Kent, where he learned of the value of breaking complex topics down into simple concepts. Outside of writing and conducting interviews, Tim produces music and trains in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).