Chatbot History: Chatterbot Julia

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

Chatterbot Julia was the creation of Dr. Michael Mauldin, the founder of the Lycos Search Engine, in 1991. It was notable not only for competing in the Loebner Prize, but for being the first use of the word “chatterbot” which developed naturally into the term chatbot that we use today.

Chatbots are computer programs that can talk to users via text or speech and mimic the natural language conversational style of humans. Chatbots are used by businesses to talk to their customers, people make friends with them, and they are also in modern smartphones as virtual assistants. Chatbots are standardized against the Turing Test. It was a test proposed by an English mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing who named it The Imitation Game. The test is designed to judge the ability of a chatbot that can successfully mimic the responses of an actual human being.

Chatbot Julia – The “First ChatterBot”

First, let’s be clear, the first chatbot ever was created in 1966, and it was not Chatterbot Julia, it was ELIZA. What we’re talking about is the creation of the term chatterbot, which was introduced 28 years later.

Michael Mauldin, who is a computer scientist and the founder of the Lycos web search engine, coined the term chatterbot in 1994. Michael created a chatbot named Julia in 1991 and entered his first Loebner Prize contest. She went on to compete in several other Loebner Prize events.

Chatterbot Julia was an attempt to recreate human conversation in a natural way. While Julia didn’t win the Loebner Prize, she was a precursor to some of the major advancements in the chatbot landscape.

The term “ChatterBot”

The term chatterbot was derived from the term verbot. Verbot is a combination of two words, verse meaning talk, and bot from robot. Dr. Mauldin started using the word chatterbot to refer to chatbots as we know them today. The shortening to chatbot from chatterbot happened naturally as far as I can tell.

Sadly you can’t chat with Chatterbot Julia today, but you can visit Julia’s homepage and from there you can read a little more about her. If you’re interested, you can also read some of Julia’s chat from the 1994 Loebner Prize where she placed third.

Michael Mauldin, creator of Chatterbot Julia, at a Lycos Event.

Michael Mauldin’s Notable Work

Chatterbot Julia was then refined by Dr. Mauldin and Peter Plantec in 1997. The duo laid the foundation of Virtual Personalities Inc. with the aim to make a virtual human program that would recreate natural speech and would also come up with real-time animations to show expressions along with speech response. Various beta versions of the verbot were released for public testing before the final version, dubbed version 3 was released in 2000. The list of Dr. Mauldin’s work for chatbots is as follows

  • The ancestor of all the verbots created by Dr. Mauldin and Virtual Personalities Inc. was Rog-O-Matic.
  • Julia has been available for chat on the internet since 1989 with one name or another.
  • Julia was the precursor to Lycos, the web search robot created by Dr. Mauldin.
  • Sylvie is the evolved form of Julia and is capable of flexible human reactions.

Dr. Mauldin has or is a partner in the following patents:

  • “Method for searching a queued and ranked constructed catalog of files stored on a network”
  • “Method and apparatus for creating a searchable digital video library and a system and method of using such a library”
  • “System and method for skimming digital audio/video data”
  • “Virtual human interface for conducting surveys”

Dr. Mauldin is now living a retired life and dedicates his time to Robot Fighting League.

Future Trends of Chatbots

Chatbots are getting more and more popular every day. They are everywhere from our smart appliances to smartphones and from customer service to receptions. Chatbots make the things that were previously done by humans all the more accurate and efficient. In the near future, we will be seeing Artificial Intelligence powered chatbots doing everything from driving cars to responding to emergency and distress calls. The contributions of people like Dr. Mauldin can never be forgotten when the days comes when chatbots become an essential part of our lives.

In Summary

Chatbots are gaining popularity and are doing many things we once thought only humans were capable of doing. Not all chatbots are equally popular, but we can never forget the fact that every single one of them was an integral part of the development of modern chatbots. Chatterbot Julia might not be the most popular of the chatbots, but the place chatbots now have in this world would not have been possible without it and without the contribution of its creator Dr. Mauldin.

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4 thoughts on “Chatbot History: Chatterbot Julia”

  1. Hi Sean,

    This is super interesting! I have to be honest: the idea of chatbots being so involved in our lives – and the fact that that involvement has been happening so quickly and unnoticed – does make me a little uneasy, just because of movies like the Matrix and shows like Black Mirror. But I also acknowledge just how helpful AI is becoming, and that’s awesome. It’s super interesting to learn more about the origins of chatbots – I for one, had no idea that the first one was created as long ago as the year I was born, or that they had any kind of prototype as far back as the 1960’s – that’s crazy!

    • Jade,

      I think your fears are understandable, the technology is moving quickly, but there are people who are trying to make sure the implementation of AI and Chatbots is done ethically. The idea of our own creations turning against us goes back to before chatbots were even an idea. The first time the word Robot was used, in Rossum’s Universal Robots, they wound up turning against humanity and destroying us. I think those stories keep us aware of the possible threats and make the events in them less likely to happen.

      Thanks for the comment,

  2. As soon as I started reading your article, Sean, I was immediately reminded of the YouTube videos that have this monotone voice commentary! Chatbots!
    It’s pretty amazing how much this technology has replaced human function. It certainly has its advantages in terms of costs, training, etc.
    Thanks for the informative article!

    • Andrea,

      Those used to drive me crazy, that horrible digital voice that every single video used. Now we have more realistic voices and they’re getting better each day. Google’s Duplex, which is now part of their Home devices, sounds human!

      As far as the technology replacing us, I think we’re just at the start of it all. The next time you get a phone call from a big company, or if you call into one, there is a good chance you’ll be talking to a chatbot. They don’t get tired or frustrated, and they don’t need to take breaks.

      Thanks for the comment,


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