What is a chatbot?

The Oxford dictionary defines a chatbot as “a computer programme designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.”

It seems like bots are a hot topic these days; but what exactly are bots? First, it’s important to highlight the differences between bots and artificial intelligence (AI). While they function well together, they are two different things.

A bot is a programme that interacts automatically with a user…

A coffee machine, for instance, can be a bot. You press a button and it mechanically serves you coffee. In a conversation, live chat, messaging or a social network, bots can answer and converse with human beings. An FAQ is a bot in its most basic form. FAQs lead you through a series of links, you automatically access results.

But, what’s generating all the hype today is the notion of a bot capable of inserting itself into a conversation – the chatbot. This differentiates it from a simple programme of links and results or a from Q&A library. Many research and learning technologies have existed for several decades helping bots learn and perfect their knowledge using databases. Today, the goal is to insert a bot within a conversation while remaining indistinguishable from a human being. In other words, have a bot answer identically, for example, or come up with content relevant to the meaning it has drawn from the user’s sentences.

Artificial intelligence involves everything pertaining to human behaviour

Understanding language, the ability to formulate sentences and identifying meaning and emotion through written and oral language are the central elements of artificial intelligence (AI). It also covers image recognition and interpretation: the ability to recognise shapes, colours and so on. Among all the applications of artificial intelligence, the most useful for a bot are those engineered around language: Natural Language Processing which allows a bot to understand the user’s language, and Natural Language Generation through which the bot can express itself. Machine learning is equally instrumental as it ensures a learning process based on a collection of information enriched by various sources through which the bot can gradually self-optimise.

In short, artificial intelligence is a tool that makes a bot more efficient. The bot that has everyone abuzz is a programme that is capable of fitting seamlessly into a conversation… and that changes everything.

Stéphane Akkaoui