Chatbots vs conversational AI: what’s the difference?

Chatbots and conversational AI are not synonymous terms. Once again, for the people in the back:

Chatbots and conversational AI are NOT the same thing.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re not related.

Unfortunately, the two technologies are all too often confused; the terms used interchangeably. This can lead to confusion, disillusionment, and disappointment.

So, chatbots vs conversational AI: what’s the difference?


What are chatbots?

Chatbots are computer programs or machines that can ‘chat’ with you. Some chatbots come in the form of robots.

An example of a humanoid or “video chatbot

Most, however, exist as basic software programs, operating through a chat interface on a website or in an app.

The most common way to interact with chatbots is via text. For example, through messaging apps or a chat interface.

The most prevalent type of chatbot is the one you access via a web chat window

Where the question of chatbots vs conversational AI becomes blurred is when you consider the two key types of chatbot available.

These are rule-based chatbots and AI-based chatbots.

A lot of the time when someone talks about chatbots, they mean rule or flow-based bots. These are chatbots with pre-written questions and answers — and no ability to deviate from their provided answers or topics.


Conversational AI

Conversational AI (or conversational artificial intelligence,) is the name for the AI technology tools behind conversational experiences with computers.

That is, it refers to a host of artificial intelligence technologies used to enable computers to converse ‘intelligently’ with us.

These technologies include NLP, ML, and intelligent analysis. Let’s break that down:

NLP is short for natural language processing. It allows a machine to understand what we say in our natural language.

That is, the way we naturally speak, with slang, abbreviations, mispronunciations and so on.

NLP allows machines to understand voice input as well as text. For instance, with NLP, you don’t need the exact correct syntax for a chatbot to understand you.

ML stands for machine learning. It means that the machine can learn from interactions with us.

So, in the case of conversational machine learning, it allows the machine to use its interactions to inform and create better conversational experiences in the future.

Intelligent analysis is another key function of conversational AI. It’s all about enabling the machine to analyse information to make suggestions and recommendations to us.


Conversational AI and the chatbot relationship

Conversational AI is the ‘conversation’ part of the AI-based chatbot. AI-based chatbots use conversational AI to understand and converse with you.

Machine learning lets chatbots remember the things you’ve said to them.

Natural language processing lets chatbots understand a broader range of input — and determine the intent behind your messages.

And intelligent analysis lets chatbots make recommendations based on our records and past interactions.


Chatbots vs conversational AI

Conversational AI is all about the tools and programming that allow a computer to mimic and carry out conversational experiences with people.

A chatbot is a program that can (but doesn’t always) use conversational AI. It’s the program that communicates with people.

Conversational AI powers chatbots. But not all chatbots use conversational AI.


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