5 min read

Chatbot vs. conversational AI: What’s the difference?

chatbots-vs-conversational-AI blog sharing
Share to:

What’s the difference between a chatbot vs. conversational AI? This causes a lot of confusion because both terms are often used interchangeably — and they shouldn’t be! In the following, we explain the two terms, and why it’s important for companies to understand the difference. 

Is chatbot the same thing as conversational AI? If you're asking yourself that question, you're not alone! There's a lot of confusion around these two terms, and they're frequently used interchangeably — even though, in most cases, people are talking about two very different technologies. To add to the confusion, sometimes it can be valid to use the word “chatbot” and “conversational AI” for the same tool. 

So, let’s be very clear: While theres 'some overlap, typically a chatbot and a conversational AI are VERY different! It’s like saying a self-driving Waymo car is the same as a golf cart. Sure, they're both electric vehicles, but other than that they don’t have too much in common. It’s very similar with chatbots and conversational AI.

In the following, we'll therefore explain what the terms “chatbot” and “conversational AI” really mean, where the differences lie, and why it’s so important for companies to understand the distinction. 

What’s a bot, and what's a chatbot?

Bot is short for “robot”. The term originates from the Slavic word “robota”, which means “servitude” or “forced labor”. Over time, the meaning of the word has shifted. Nowadays, according to Merriam Webster, a robot is:

a computer program that performs automatic repetitive tasks.

There are, in fact, many different types of bots, such as malware bots or construction robots that help workers with dangerous tasks — and then there are also chatbots.

A chatbot is a specific type of (ro)bot that can understand human language and respond to it. Chatbots are typically designed to converse with humans, either by text or voice. Even though chatbots are often called “bots”, it’s critical to keep in mind that while every chatbot is a (ro)bot, not every bot is necessarily a chatbot. And: not all chatbots are the same either!

What’s the difference between a chatbot vs. a conversational AI?

In the field of chatbots, experts differentiate between rule-based chatbots and AI-based chatbots. Rule-based chatbots, also known as button bots, are the most basic type of chatbot. They communicate based on pre-set rules: if the customer says “x”, you answer “y”.

Your typical automated phone menu (for English, press one; for Spanish, press two) is basically a rule bot. So, instead of a regular conversation, the bot usually offers customers a choice of pre-defined answers, and then guides the user through a decision-tree menu, until the bot knows what the customer wants, and is able to re-direct them to a human agent.

While rule-based bots can certainly be helpful for answering basic questions or gathering initial information from a customer, they have their limits. For one, they're not able to interact with customers in a real conversational way. Also, if a customer doesn’t happen to use the right keywords, the bot won’t be able to help them. That’s where conversational AI comes in.

Conversational AI refers to communication technology like chatbots and virtual assistants that use natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, and conversational design to mimic human interactions, and create a more natural flow of conversation.


NLP enables the bot to better extrapolate a user’s intent from the words they are using, without having to follow rigid pre-defined keywords