Chatbot History: The ALICE Chatbot

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

ALICE, which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, was created by Dr. Richard Wallace back in the early days of the Internet on November 23, 1995. The website still exists in the same state it was launched, and users can chat with the ALICE chatbot anytime they want. ALICE is also known as Alicebot (or Alice bot), and more correctly called A.L.I.C.E., but since her name is an acronym, but we’ll be calling her ALICE.

Since her creation, ALICE has been updated several times since then, but her age alone means that she belongs on any list of important chatbot advances. And the ALICE chatbot has held up surprisingly well despite relying on code that is a quarter of a century old. She also offers clients a surprisingly pleasant conversational experience.

ALICE was inspired by ELIZA, and she is arguably the most influential since ELIZA. But unlike ELIZA, the ALICE chatbot relies on more pre-configured templates to handle her interactions and has a limited learning capacity. She uses a series of rules that match user input against patterns to help her determine how to respond instead of using more advanced NLP techniques. Despite this, chatbot ALICE handles the intricacies of language well enough, and chatting with her can be quite entertaining.

A woman using a chatbot

Interacting With The ALICE Chatbot

Chatting with the ALICE chatbot for a brief time shows how advanced she truly is, but it also shows her shortcomings. The responses that ALICE bot provides to questions or statements are pretty normal. Her conversational style is polite and friendly, but when ALICE runs into something she doesn’t know or understand, she will change the subject by asking an unrelated question.

This isn’t a problem in most conversations, in fact many people (you can almost read this as “politicians”) use the same tactic. But some of the topics ALICE doesn’t have a grasp of are pretty odd. Asking her a simple question about those topics can be frustrating. For example, when I asked chatbot ALICE “do you have any food?” she responded with “No I don’t think I have any food. But I do have a lot of friends on the web.”

In 1998, Dr. Wallace rewrote ALICE using Java and an xml-based language he developed called AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) to specify the rules of conversation. In 2015, when Wallace released AIML 2.0, ALICE was improved dramatically. AIML is open source and has become one of the default languages used in chatbot development.

artificial intelligence

ALICE’s Impact

I’m not sure we’ll ever truly know the impact chatbot A.L.I.C.E. has had on the chatbot industry, there are simply too many other chatbots that are derived from her code. Because ALICE’s AIML files are open source, that number keeps growing every day. Some very famous chatbots use ALICE’s files, including other Loebner Prize Winners like Mitsuku.

Oh, speaking of the Loebner Prize, ALICE won it three times, in 2000, 2001, and 2004, but she failed to ever pass the Turing Test.

ALICE is also the inspiration behind the movie Her, in which a person falls in love with a chatbot. Director Spike Jonze explained in an interview with the LA Times that despite the comparisons to Siri, he had the idea after an interaction with ALICE.

In Conclusion

The ALICE chatbot is arguably the second most influential chatbot after ELIZA, this is mostly due to her use of AIML, which wouldn’t exist if Dr. Wallace had never created her. I would argue that ALICE is also the most successful chatbot ever created. This is due to the fact that her code is open source, which means that many other chatbots are essentially the offspring of ALICE, including Mitsuku. By some estimates, ALICE has had a hand in the creation of thousands of other chatbots.

Chat with ALICE.

Or you can chat with ALICE on the more modern looking pandorabots website.

If you’re interested in learning more, read our full article What is the History of Chatbots?

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