Chatbot History: What is Dr. Sbaitso

Last Updated on October 12, 2020 by Sean B

What is Dr. Sbaitso might sound like an odd question unless you know some chatbot history. Dr. Sbaitso, created in 1991 by Creative Labs, was an acronym for Sound Blaster Acting Intelligent Text to Speech Operator. He was an AI program used for personal computers running on MS-DOS.

A Very Brief History of Sound Card Technology

When Dr. Sbaitso was introduced, personal computers didn’t have much, if any, real sound features. Most of them just produced simple one note beeps. They simply didn’t have the ability to produce more complex sounds.

Back in 1981, the first real sound card was introduced, it was rudimentary, but it allowed the beeps that personal computers emitted to be produced in different tones.

The first sound card that produced any real sounds was the IBM PCjr, which was developed in 1984. It added support for 3 square wave tones and a white noise channel. These were still in 6-bit sound, but it was something new and allowed computers to produce something like music.

As with many computer-related technologies, video games were responsible for many of these advances. The desire for more natural sounds and music in the games led to greater improvements in the technology.

The next major advancement was made in 1988 and introduced sine wave sound, which was a more natural sound. You can hear the difference in this video on the Audio Masterclass
channel. Square wave sound has been referred to as “bee in a box.” This advancement was driven by the game company Sierra Online.

The Sound Blaster card introduced in 1989 was the next big leap and introduced the sounds used to create the voice of Dr. Sbaitso.

Other advanced sound abilities were added by using even more complex sound cards like we have today.

The Sound Blaster card by Creative Labs was how Dr. Sbaitso was distributed.

Dr. Sbaitso Text to Speech Technology

Creative Labs, the developers of Dr. Sbaitso, were the leading sound card manufacturer of the time, and they released Dr. Sbaitso along with their latest Sound Blaster sound cards at the end of 1991.

Dr. Sbaitso was not truly a chatbot, at least not by the standards we have for modern chatbots. The purpose of developing Dr. Sbaitso was to showcase the sound production capabilities of Creative Labs’ sound cards in a time when there were no MP3 files.

What Could Dr. Sbaitso Do?

But what is Dr. Sbaitso for? Well he was designed to converse with the users like a psychologist, but instead of recommending some useful solution to a problem or at least replying intelligently to the user, most of the time, Dr. Sbaitso used the same reply, “ Why do you feel that way?” On top of that, if he encountered a sentence he didn’t understand, he usually replied with, “That’s not my problem.”

One of the best abilities of the program was to pronounce a written sentence if the user added the word “say” at the start of a sentence. In case of abusing or using indecent language over and over again, the software used to go into an error, shown on the screen as “Parity Err” and would then restart.

Prody Parrot, a updated version of Dr. Sbaitso.

The Evolution of Dr. Sbaitso: Introducing Prody Parrot

After introducing the chatbot on MS-DOS systems, creative labs developed an improved version of the program for Windows known as Prody Parrot in 1999. Prody Parrot and was Microsoft’s first attempt at anything resembling a true chatbot or virtual assistant.

It was more capable than its predecessor which was more of a text to speech converter than an AI chatbot. It was introduced as a desktop assistant computer software and available for Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows ME. It was mainly aimed to help people and businesses using computers in an official environment, but it was popular, and people did use them on personal computers at home.

This new offering that was released in 1999 had some really serious graphics by 1999 standards. It was presented in the form of a parrot that flew around the screen of a computer and offered its services when it felt the user needed them. When not in use, the parrot perched on top of any of the open windows or on the Taskbar of the user’s computer.

Users could access the parrot by clicking on it, using a keyboard shortcut, or using voice commands. The Parrot could help the user in a variety of ways by interacting with the apps. It even has a built-in feature to keep an eye on the stock market and keep updating the user about any eventful happenings going on in the market. At the heart of this software was Dr. Sbaitso, it used the same software backing to run but had some enhanced features and functionality.

However, both Prody Parrot and Dr. Sbaitso were discontinued by Microsoft after 2004. But you can download Prody Parrot for Windows 10 here.

In Conclusion

Chatbots and AI have come a long way from where they started, and some modern versions of AI are so intelligent that they often scare us. Dr. Sbaitso was one of the very first attempts at natural speech from an artificially intelligent machine. It won’t even count as a chatbot in today’s scenario, but it was, nonetheless a stepping stone in the journey towards the advanced chatbots and other AI-powered machines we have today. Even though it has been discontinued, its legacy will be carried on in the generations to come.

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2 thoughts on “Chatbot History: What is Dr. Sbaitso”

  1. Over the past three or four decades, the field of Chatbots and AI has really evolved in such a way that this extensive capability of computer technology is almost frightening.
    Thanks for this great post, given that I don’t know this area well, I read and learned a lot of interesting information on this topic. I see that you know and master this field very well.

    Reply
    • Nina,

      The rate of adoption and the growth in capabilities are both incredible, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing a Terminator “SkyNet” situation anytime soon. Glad you enjoyed the post and found it useful.

      Sean

      Reply

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