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Human-Like Conversational AI: Past, Present, and Future


Planning for revenue growth
Planning for revenue growth
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Conversation Automation
Published 04/27/21
4 minutes read

Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already a fixture in our personal and professional lives. From the personal virtual assistants that we use to play music and control our homes to professional virtual assistants that help us do our jobs, Conversational AI is everywhere.

Let’s take a closer look at where Conversational AI came from, where it is today, and where it’s going in the future.

A Brief History of Conversational AI

The seeds of Conversational AI started in the 1960s when MIT developed ELIZA, a precursor to natural language processing (NLP). ELIZA ran on a number of scripts that were triggered by a user statement. One of the most famous uses for ELIZA was psychotherapy in which a participant would make a statement (“My mother hates me”) and the technology would respond (“Why do you think your mother hates you?”). At the time, it was convincing enough to pass the Turing test.

Tech giant and long-time innovator IBM helped NLP take a step forward with Shoebox, a voice-activated calculator. IBM continued to make technological advances, developing a voice-activated typewriter with a built-in vocabulary of 20,000 words in the 80s. Nearly a decade later, IBM created the first-ever Virtual Assistant with the Simon smartphone complete with digital speech recognition technology.

The first-ever chatbot, SmarterChild, was developed by Colloquies. It communicated over AOL instant messenger and had 30 million “buddies” on the platform.

Conversica entered the space in 2007 with an AI Assistant designed to help automotive dealerships motivate online leads to come into the dealership. Seeing how successful this was in accelerating deals, Conversica has since expanded the use cases for its Conversational AI technology to assist all revenue-generating teams across industries.

The 2010s saw a jump in the number of households and businesses leveraging personal AI Assistants including Google Home and Amazon Alexa. These voice-activated assistants are used for a variety of purposes. These include operating home devices, performing online searches, and online shopping.

Common Conversational AI Use Cases Today

Today, Conversational AI is leveraged by customer-facing business teams in the form of AI Assistants to engage contacts in personalized conversations at scale.

AI Assistants are virtual team members that work alongside business people to help them get the job done. So, while AI Assistants automate repetitive tasks, business professionals are able to focus on higher-value tasks that require creative thinking and problem solving that only people can do.

The use cases for AI Assistants are different for different teams. Marketing, for example, uses AI Assistants to deliver a personalized touch to every incoming lead to see which are “sales-ready” and which need more time. Customer Success teams, on the other hand, use AI Assistants to regularly touch base with their customer accounts. This helps Customer Success Managers to schedule important meetings, gather feedback, drive customer health, and offer expansion opportunities.

Chatbots are another popular form of Conversational AI. Website chat helps connect website visitors with the information they seek. This includes answering frequently asked questions, locating certain web pages for users, or helping troubleshoot issues.

Website chat is extremely common on ecommerce websites or for customer support. Recently, website chat has caught on with Marketers to collect lead information, find sales-ready leads, and point visitors to helpful information such as customer case studies.

There is, admittedly, a difference between simple chatbots and website chat powered by Conversational AI, both in its construction and purpose. Simple chatbots are rules-based systems. They recognize certain terms and match phrases to a pre-programmed response. They cannot simulate two-way conversations and their use cases are pretty limited—which is fine if that’s all you need.

But many companies and customers alike enjoy two-way conversations with a more sophisticated AI solution. These are sometimes called personality chatbots, although these AI are more sophisticated than bots.

AI-driven website chat provides real-time conversations to website visitors. But AI Assistants can communicate across multiple channels including email and SMS text messaging. While these conversations can happen in real-time, AI Assistants can continue the conversation over days or even weeks. This kind of persistence is necessary for fostering communications with leads or customers to better motivate them to take the next best action—such as scheduling a meeting with your Sales team or Customer Success team.

Customers enjoy interacting with Conversational AI because it is prompt, persistent, and polite. In some cases, they don’t even realize they are talking to an AI—assuming they are talking to a real person instead.

The Future of Conversational AI

While no one knows the future with perfect certainty, we can safely assume that the trend towards more sophisticated Conversational AI and more use cases is likely to continue.

In the near term, we can expect Conversational AI to expand its number of available channels. As social selling has become more popular, so too will social-selling AI Assistants. Similarly, voice-activated Conversational AI will become more sophisticated in its capabilities to understand and respond to users in natural, two-way conversations.

It’s important to note that many Conversational AI solutions leverage Machine Learning which helps improve accuracy and capabilities over time. Because of this, newcomers to Conversational AI will have less history to build on than a legacy provider, generally speaking. Through continued learning and innovation, Conversational AI will find its way into new business teams.

It’s even possible Conversational AI will move from AI Assistants—which help an employee automate repetitive tasks to maximize productivity—to AI Advisors which help employees make strategic decisions based on the AI’s ability to process large amounts of data quickly.

From virtual therapist to digital coworker, Conversational AI continues to evolve. Are you looking forward to what comes next?

Want to learn more about how Conversational AI is changing the workforce? Explore the 451 Research Report, The Augmented Workforce: A Maturity Model for Intelligent Virtual Assistant Usage.

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