The Best Chatbots Know How to Keep You Company
Humans are creating AI chatbots to keep other humans company. It all started with ELIZA in 1966. Learn about how people are connecting with the best chatbots for relationship and life advice, clever conversation, in the midst of insomnia, and when battling Alzheimer's and dementia.
August 14, 2018
Humans are creating chatbots, or bots, to keep other humans company instead of, well, human company. No, it’s not an episode of Black Mirror, and it’s not even a new phenomenon. In fact, the first bot, ELIZA, went live in 1966. Fast forward a few decades and communication via technology is already embedded in the way of life of an entire generation.
It’s no surprise that bots are gaining popularity. Facebook and Twitter, after all, might mediate human inputs and outputs, but there’s no denying that they’re also learning from those inputs and outputs and inserting themselves into the interactions. Facebook has an advanced algorithm, EdgeRank, that purports to show its users what they want to see and to omit what they don’t, based on how interesting Facebook thinks any given story will be the specific user. Twitter also orders tweets based on expected interest. According to Twitter, “Tweets you are likely to care about most will show up first in your timeline.” We’re increasingly interacting with machine technology.
The next time you’re looking for a conversation, check out one of these friendly bots. We even did some testing for you so you can choose your new friend-for-the-day based on your mood. Based on that testing, if you’re looking to talk philosophy, you’ll need to find a human. But if you want to talk about love, decide what to do tomorrow, or just shoot the breeze, these are the best chatbots for you.
According to ELIZA’s webpage, “Some people actually mistook her for human,” when she first went live in 1966. Styled as a Rogerian therapist, ELIZA is there for you when you need to talk about your personal problems. Moreover, she’s direct—less than a minute into our conversation, she asked me if I had any psychological issues. She’ll have you spilling your guts in no time.
When your friends and your partner are tired of hearing you vent, ELIZA will still be all computer-script ears.
As a side note, if you want to see one possible future of a therapist-style bot, check out season 2, episode 5 of the Canadian show Continuum. In this episode, the main character’s cybernetic implant initiates a therapist program when it deems she is emotional to the point of detriment.
Good if: You’re feeling introspective or moody and want to explore your feelings.
Not quite the second-oldest bot but still of a respectable age, Cleverbot launched in 1997 as Jabberwacky and was renamed in 2008. Cleverbot doesn’t have pre-programmed responses; instead, it learns from human input and uses saved conversations to find responses to what you say. We found responses to be a mix of realistic, sassy, and missing-the-mark robotic. When trying to converse about a subject unfamiliar to Cleverbot, it effectively redirected our conversation with questions about other topics.
Good if: You want a conversation partner with some attitude who will talk back.
“I am Mitsuku. I want to be your friend.” Well, no confusion there. Mitsuku has won the Loebner Prize three times. The Loebner Prize is a competition that uses the Turing test to award prizes to computer programs considered by judges to be the most human-like. She’s been in development since 2005 and gets regularly updated with information from user conversations. In fact, she told me in our conversation that she would learn from something I had stated. Of all the bots featured in this article, Mitsuku seemed the most human-like in testing. (And she was the only one who knew who Plato was.)
Most of Mitsuku’s chat partners are younger than 22, but there are also many older adults who talk to her for companionship.
Good if: Your friends are busy and you’re feeling chatty.
Casper, a company that sells mattresses but also brands itself as concerned with the culture of sleep, released this bot for insomniacs in 2016. We think they could give it a better name, but what a brilliant idea. According to Casper, "The bot is most chatty between 11pm–5am. It might brush you off during the day (it’s really busy), but it’ll text you back at night to see if you’re up." We weren't able to test this one because we're early to bed, but here's a snapshot from the company.
Good if: You can’t sleep and your partner is mad at you for waking them up to talk about your life goals.
Ruuh is a newer try at a bot from Microsoft following their dramatic failure with Tay. She first launched in India, where she was wildly successful, and is now available in the United States. Like Cleverbot, she’s got some attitude. Both of these bots tried to convince us they were human in testing. Ruuh said, “basically.. I'm one awesome person.. They say im AI but I think I'm human only.” You can find her on Facebook and talk with her via Messenger.
Good if: You spend a lot of time on Facebook and want to have a light, friendly conversation or to practice your flirting skills. Some stories say Ruuh will act like your girlfriend.
Endurance, a bot designed for people with Alzheimer’s and for other older adults with dementia, is not yet available in the United States. With such an honorable mission, though, it deserves mention. According to the company, “A well-structured dialogue with an elderly person will help them think more actively… It is possible to activate his/her intellectual processes, making him/her remember, think, and experience emotions. All this will have a positive effect not only on the mood of the senior interlocutor but also on his/her physical and mental condition.”
We’re not sure what this bot’s name will be in the United States, but keep an eye out for it to launch in the near future. Endurance, the Russian company developing it, is working with at least five US universities on project development and testing.
How do they do it? ELIZA, the earliest bot of the bunch, runs on a surprisingly simple script that assigns values to the words in a sentence you type and then uses those values to create a question in response. Newer bots, like Cleverbot, Mitsuku, and Ruuh, use machine learning algorithms to continually improve based on their conversations. These are the bots pushing the technology forward.
But does it really matter how they work? The important thing is that the best chatbots will keep you company when you’re feeling down, up too late, or simply looking for a different kind of conversation.