Important People and Events in Chatbot History

Last Updated on December 8, 2020 by Sean B

This article focuses on some of the most important people and events in chatbot history. The people included have made valuable contributions to the fields of Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, or to the creation and development of chatbots. The events included are significant advances in chatbot development and related fields.

Key People in Chatbot History

This section highlights individuals that played a significant role in the development of Chatbots, AI, or related technologies. It is organized by the birth year of the individual, not by their accomplishments.

A portrait of Alan Turing, the developer of the Turing Test.

Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing was born in Maida Vale on 23rd of June 1912, in London. Turing left an enormous legacy behind him and is an inspiration for many in the field of artificial intelligence and computer science. Turing not only lent his contributions towards the development of computers and artificial intelligence, but his work in breaking the Enigma Code also saved millions of lives during World War II. Turing died of cyanide poisoning on the 8th of June, 1954, believed to be a suicide due to his treatment as a homosexual man, which was illegal at the time in Great Britain.

Learn more about Alan Turing:
A Brief Biography of Alan Turing

Dr. Kenneth Colby, the developer of PARRY.

Kenneth Colby

Kenneth Colby was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the USA, in 1920. He graduated from Yale University in 1941 and received his M.D. from Yale Medical School in 1943. Dr. Colby was the developer of PARRY, a chatbot simulating a patient who has schizophrenia. The thinking of PARRY involved him misrepresenting the motives of others. Colby  was also among the first to recognize the possibilities of AI and chatbots as an aid to treating those with mental health issues. Dr. Colby died in Malibu, California on April 20th, 2001.

Learn more about Kenneth Colby:
A Brief Biography of Kenneth Colby

A portrait of Professor Joseph Weizenbaum.

Joseph Weizenbaum

Joseph Weizenbaum was born in Berlin, Germany, on the 8th January, 1923. At the time of his birth, Germany was heading towards a dark period. Within ten years, it would be in the control of the Nazis, which made matters complicated and harsh for Joseph and his parents. After reaching the United States, Joseph studied mathematics at Wayne State University then served in the US Army Air Corps until the war ended. He then returned to Wayne State and received his BS in 1948 and his MS in 1950. After working at both Wayne State and GE, he moved on to MIT where he created the first true chatbot, ELIZA. The ELIZA chatbot was modeled on a Rogerian Psychotherapist.

Learn more about Joseph Weizenbaum:
A Brief Biography of Joseph Weizenbaum

Richard Wallace

Richard Wallace was born in Portland, Maine on  Jan 1, 1960 and received his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1989. After that, Dr. Wallace started working on AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) and the ALICE chatbot. AIML is still one of the primary languages used for chatbots, and ALICE has influenced generations of chatbots. Many chatbots, including Mitsuku, use ALICE’s AIML files as part of their programming. Dr. Wallace has more recently been involved in a battle against academia, which he considers corrupt.

Learn more about Richard Wallace:
A Brief Biography of Richard Wallace

A photo of Rollo Carpenter.

Rollo Carpenter

Rollo Carpenter was born in 1965 in Britain and started programming at a very young age, he was exceptionally gifted at handling databases. Carpenter has been active in the field of AI throughout his career. As early as 1986, Carpenter started working on the ideas for Jabberwacky, a chatbot that competed in the Loebner Competition three times under different avatars, winning as both George in 2005 and Joan in 2006. He would later release on the internet as Cleverbot in 1997. Carpenter also co-founded Bizfinity, a company that provides business synchronization platform, in 1997. Cleverbot has a number of different avatars, the most famous being Evie.

Learn more about Rollo Carpenter:
A Brief Biography of Rollo Carpenter

Steve Worswick

Steve is the Senior Artificial Intelligence Designer at Pandorabots and is the developer of Mitsuku, also known as Kuki, the five-time Loebner Prize winner chatbot. It is considered the most human-like robot in the world. Mitsuku contains all the ALICE chatbot files along with new additions and improvements accumulated from user-generated inputs.

Learn more about Steve Worswick:
A Brief Biography of Steve Worswick

Important Events in Chatbot History: Related Events and Technologies

This section includes technologies related to the development of chatbots. Events related to the development of the internet, related toys, and even a phone system we all love to hate are included. They all made a major impact on the history of chatbots or the technologies involved.

A closeup of the settings of the Enigma Machine.

The Enigma Code is Broken

On July 9th in 1941, the British Cryptologists at Bletchley Park cracked the Enigma Code, saving an estimated 14 million lives. Led by Alan Turing, the staff of Bletchley Park built a machine they called the Bombe, which bore the code name Victory, which was designed to discover the daily settings being used by Nazi Germany to encode their messages. This was nearly impossible to do without the Bombe because there were almost 151 trillion different combinations possible.

Learn more about the breaking of the Enigma Code:
Chatbot History: The Enigma Machine

A sculpture of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park.

The Turing Test or Imitation Game is Described

The Turing Test is at the core, a test of a machine’s intelligence. The real test of the Turing Test is if a computer can fool people into thinking it is a person. In other words, can a computer exhibit human behavior? Alan Turing first described the test, calling it the Imitation Game, in a 1950 paper titled, Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Turing was working at the University of Manchester when he wrote the paper, but it seems based on his earlier work, that he had been contemplating the intelligence of computing machinery for some time.

Learn more about the creation of the Turing Test:
Chatbot History: What is the Turing Test?

A map of the ARPANET in 1974


The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) Project was launched in 1966 by Bob Taylor to enable access to remote computers. Larry Roberts led the project and awarded the contract to build the network to Bolt Beranek & Newman and the first computers were connected in 1969. Access to the ARPANET was expanded slowly and the network map above shows what the network looked like in 1974. The project was opened more widely in 1981 when the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the Computer Science Network, from that point on a new host computer was connecting about every 20 days.

The ARPANET was restructured in 1984, giving the US Military their own network called Military Network or MILNET. In 1985, the NSF developed the civilian branch of the ARPANET into what became the Internet Backbone. The ARPANET was formally decommissioned in 1990.

Learn more about the development of the ARPANET:
Chatbot History: The ARPANET is Created

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems

Created in the early 1970’s, these automated phone systems can’t really be considered chatbots, but they were attempts to automate conversations and remove human workers from a task. The systems don’t have any intelligence behind them however, so they would be classified as Rules-Based or what some call “Button Bots.” If you want to chat with one, simply call any large company and odds are you’ll get an automated system.

The Internet and the World Wide Web

The term “internet” was first used in 1974 and was simply a shortened form of Internetworking. In 1989, researchers at CERN in Switzerland, led by Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, a system that allowed hypertext documents to be placed online making them accessible to anyone with access. The internet has taken off, as you know, since then and is now an everyday part of life in most countries.

A closeup of someone holding the Loebner Prize Medal.

The Loebner Prize Established

The Loebner Prize is an annual competition for AI Chatbots where the winner is the chatbot the judges determine to be the most human-like. Established in 1990 by Hugh Loebner and the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. It has been held and organized by the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour or AISB since 2014 and is now hosted at Bletchley Park. Though the award is somewhat controversial in the field of Artificial Intelligence, being regarded by many as nothing more than a publicity stunt. It is still an interesting opportunity to see the latest advances in chatbots.

Learn more about the development of the Loebner Prize:
Chatbot History: What is the Loebner Prize?

IBM’s Watson Wins Jeopardy

In 2011, Watson, an AI chatbot developed by IBM, competed against the two greatest Jeopardy champions in history. Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games, and Brad Rutter, who won $3.25 million on the show. Watson not only won the game, he destroyed his human opponents, winning $77,147. Both Jennings and Rutter finished with less than $25,000, with Jennings adding, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords” to his final answer.

Learn more about the Jeopardy Tournament:
IBM Watson Wins Jeopardy

In Closing

Some of the people and events mentioned above have made significant contributions to the field of Artificial Intelligence and to Chatbots in general, and others have had a minor impact, such as inspiring the direction of a specific kind of chatbot. But each of the events and technologies listed above have made an impact either in the life of an important person in the field, or on the field as a whole.

One of the main reasons I chose to include this article and the related articles on this site is to show how seemingly unrelated events and technologies can build upon each other to create an entire industry. Or, as is the case of the development of the ARPANET, many industries.

Please let me know if I’m missing an event or person that
deserves to be included in this article.
I look forward to your comments below.

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