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Why You Don't Need Proprietary Bot Software

Noel Bush
June 2001

Noel Bush

Windows 0.3

In the year 2001, there is no HAL 9000. Instead, there are a growing number of software packages that attempt to do some part of what Arthur Clarke / Stanley Kubrick envisioned in the book and film of the same name, most of which go by the label "chatter bot", "virtual representative", "virtual person", "smart bot", or some similar variant. Here I'll be calling them all "bot software", disregarding the fact that "bot" usually applies to a broader range of software than just conversational programs.

Many people claim that this bot software has real business applications in customer service, distance learning, and so on. A number of companies have been built in hopes of capturing a piece of a still infant market for bot software.

Most of today's bot software is proprietary, meaning that its source code is closed, its methods layered over with some attempts at legal protection (patents, etc.), and its use restricted to those who agree to pay license fees that are usually very large, and that are usually followed up by hefty professional services fees.

Only a few bot software packages are free or open source, and only one has had the participation of over 300 developers around the world. That one is A.L.I.C.E., today known as the Alicebot engine and AIML technologies. Alicebot/AIML is released under the GNU General Public License, the same license used by Linux, and the truest of "open source" licenses in that it construes a particular meaning of "free" that has to do not with price, but with access and liberty. (See www.fsf.org.)

Alicebot/AIML is to [insert proprietary bot software] as Linux 0.01 would have been to Windows 0.3. Of course, when Linux 0.01 was released (1991), Windows 3.0 was already out, introducing such marvels as the use of more than 640Kb of RAM; and of course, no one but an inner circle at Microsoft ever saw such a thing as "Windows 0.3" (if there was such a thing).

But there are two points to this analogy:

  1. Alicebot/AIML is already more advanced than any commercial bot software.
  2. Commercial bot software already faces the same uphill fight against the market forces of free/open source software that Microsoft did not begin to face seriously until its own software had advanced significantly beyond an embryonic stage (say, around 1999 when Red Hat went public and Windows 2000 was released).

Add to that that most commercial attempts to sell proprietary bot software are struggling to stay alive, and that the list of Alicebot/AIML companies is growing. Below I'll go into some detail to explain why you don't need--and shouldn't choose--proprietary bot software if you are planning to begin using bot software in your company. This argument is divided into three parts:

Feel free to skip around.

Next: The Historical Case >>