A chatbot is a software application used to conduct an on-line chat conversation via text or text-to-speech, in lieu of providing direct contact with a live human agent. Designed to convincingly simulate the way a human would behave as a conversational partner, chatbot systems typically require continuous tuning and testing, and many in production remain unable to adequately converse or pass the industry standard Turing test. The term “ChatterBot” was originally coined by Michael Mauldin (creator of the first Verbot) in 1994 to describe these conversational programs.
Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various purposes including customer service, request routing, or for information gathering. While some chatbot applications use extensive word-classification processes, Natural Language processors, and sophisticated AI, others simply scan for general keywords and generate responses using common phrases obtained from an associated library or database.
Today, most chatbots are accessed on-line via website popups, or through virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat. Chatbots are typically classified into usage categories that include: commerce (e-commerce via chat), education, entertainment, finance, health, news, and productivity.
An intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) or intelligent personal assistant (IPA) is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual based on commands or questions. Sometimes the term “chatbot” is used to refer to virtual assistants generally or specifically accessed by online chat. In some cases, online chat programs are exclusively for entertainment purposes. Some virtual assistants are able to interpret human speech and respond via synthesized voices. Users can ask their assistants questions, control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal commands. A similar concept, however with differences, lays under the dialogue systems.
As of 2017, the capabilities and usage of virtual assistants are expanding rapidly, with new products entering the market and a strong emphasis on both email and voice user interfaces. Apple and Google have large installed bases of users on smartphones. Microsoft has a large installed base of Windows-based personal computers, smartphones and smart speakers. Amazon has a large install base for smart speakers. Conversica has over 100 million engagements via its email and sms interface Intelligent Virtual Assistants for business.