If you’re not in the techie group, you’re most likely not going to be aware that when people talk about chatbots, they are, in most cases, actually talking about what the AI experts call conversational agents or dialog systems.
To get this straight, let’s take a quick side trip down to the history of 'talking' AI systems. The term chatbot, which is quite popular these days, was originally coined in the 1950s, in the context of AI research endeavor that aimed to simulate a human communicator by a computer program. By doing so, the resulting level of communication would be ultimately so authentic that it couldn’t be identified as an artificial system by humans anymore. In accordance with that original meaning of the term, the main purpose of chatbot systems was the computational modeling of human dialog itself. The famous ELIZA chatbot from the 1960s is still one of the most popular references in that regard.
Conversational agents, meanwhile, are a different story. Their aim is to serve as language-based user interfaces for a wide range of specific applications and, therefore, highly relevant for real-world industry applications. For example, virtual assistant systems like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri are designed to fulfill a wide variety of tasks by processing voice or text-based user requests such as providing weather forecasts, playing music, or booking flight tickets online. These systems, in general, proceed by collecting the relevant information needed from the user to fulfill the task at hand with a dialog-based user interaction. This pattern of providing automated digital services proved itself to be a powerful tool for a vastly growing number of industry applications.
However, the term “chatbot” became, for some reason, more popular and what the audience chose to adapt to when referring to conversational agents. So, for the sake of it, we’ll also call them chatbots.