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Conversational agents (CAs) have come a long way from their first appearance in the 1960s to today’s generative models. Continuous technological advancements such as statistical computing and large language models allow for an increasingly natural and effortless interaction, as well as domain-agnostic deployment opportunities. Ultimately, this evolution begs multiple questions: How have technical capabilities developed? How is the nature of work changed through humans’ interaction with conversational agents? How has research framed dominant perceptions and depictions of such agents? And what is the path forward? To address these questions, we conducted a bibliometric study including over 5000 research articles on CAs. Based on a systematic analysis of keywords, topics, and author networks, we derive “five waves of CA research” that describe the past, present, and potential future of research on CAs. Our results highlight fundamental technical evolutions and theoretical paradigms in CA research. Therefore, we discuss the moderating role of big technologies, and novel technological advancements like OpenAI GPT or BLOOM NLU that mark the next frontier of CA research. We contribute to theory by laying out central research streams in CA research, and offer practical implications by highlighting the design and deployment opportunities of CAs.
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Information Systems Frontiers
Charting the Evolution and Future of Conversational Agents:
A Research Agenda Along Five Waves and New Frontiers
Sofia Sch ¨
obel1·Anuschka Schmitt2·Dennis Benner3·Mohammed Saqr4·Andreas Janson2·
Jan Marco Leimeister2,3
Accepted: 15 January 2023
©The Author(s) 2023
Conversational agents (CAs) have come a long way from their first appearance in the 1960s to today’s generative models.
Continuous technological advancements such as statistical computing and large language models allow for an increasingly
natural and effortless interaction, as well as domain-agnostic deployment opportunities. Ultimately, this evolution begs
multiple questions: How have technical capabilities developed? How is the nature of work changed through humans’
interaction with conversational agents? How has research framed dominant perceptions and depictions of such agents? And
what is the path forward? To address these questions, we conducted a bibliometric study including over 5000 research
articles on CAs. Based on a systematic analysis of keywords, topics, and author networks, we derive “five waves of CA
research” that describe the past, present, and potential future of research on CAs. Our results highlight fundamental technical
evolutions and theoretical paradigms in CA research. Therefore, we discuss the moderating role of big technologies, and
novel technological advancements like OpenAI GPT or BLOOM NLU that mark the next frontier of CA research. We
contribute to theory by laying out central research streams in CA research, and offer practical implications by highlighting
the design and deployment opportunities of CAs.
Keywords Bibliometric analysis ·Chatbot ·Conversational agent ·Voice assistant ·ChatGPT ·Large language models ·
Generative artificial intelligence
1 Introduction
Industry and service providers have found interest in
conversational agents (CAs), oftentimes colloquially called
chatbots. Research on such agents is a rapidly growing
field, with an increase in publications over the last few
decades, especially fueled through the development of
CAs such as Amazon’s Alexa that build upon voice as
a modality, so called voice bots (Schmitt et al., 2021;
Seaborn et al., 2022; Kendall et al., 2020). Further, recent
developments such as the release of the ChatGPT beta
from OpenAI pave the way towards a disruptive general
AI where conversational partners are general assistants to a
Anuschka Schmitt and Dennis Benner have contributed equally
to this work.
Sofia Sch¨
Extended author information available on the last page of the article.
wide variety of tasks (Haque et al., 2022). Historically, the
first chatbot was developed in 1966 by Weizenbaum (1966).
Since then, numerous studies have discussed and analyzed
the relevance and effectiveness of chatbots and other types
of CAs. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and
the deployment of more complex models such as neural
networks (Sedik et al., 2022; Goudos et al., 2019; Kushwaha
&Kar,2021), CAs offer the potential to be sophisticated
interactive systems, assisting not only customers to handle
their complaints but also acting as learning assistants in
tutoring students or employees, for instance (Schmitt et al.,
2021; Wambsganss et al., 2021).
The growing relevance of CAs is further supported by the
global market of CA commercialization, which is expected
to grow by 24.3% until 2025. This equals a total market net
worth of 1.25 billion USD. Despite technical advances and
CAs’ market penetration, current research points towards
unexpected challenges and previously unaddressed ques-
tions. For example, organizations experience issues inte-
grating chatbots into customer service (Adam et al., 2020;
Behera et al., 2021) because of customers’ skepticism
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Information Systems Frontiers
toward chatbots who view such bots as unnatural, imper-
sonal, or deceptive. In addition, CAs’ adoption can be
impeded by communication and interaction problems, as
well as ethical concerns (Heyselaar & Bosse, 2019). With
many decades of CA research and new questions arising,
the results of extant research can serve as a foundation to
sketch out the frontiers of existing CA research, while such
an overview also enables to identify new avenues for CA
research. Therefore, with this study, we aim to provide an
overview of the past, present, and future of CAs and aim to
answer the following research questions:
RQ1: How has research on CAs developed over time?
RQ2: What are common research streams around CA
RQ3: What are future research directions and potential
novel frontiers for the design and use of CAs?
To answer our research questions, we present the results
of a bibliometric study that considered over 5,000 studies
on CAs. In our study, we provide an overview of leading
authors and countries and demonstrate the development
of keywords in this research domain. Furthermore, we
discuss implications for future research by introducing five
historical waves of CAs marked by unique technological
advances and research focus each.
We contribute to theory and practice by presenting a
consolidated overview of the state-of-the-art regarding the
usage of CAs. This perspective is additionally supported
by implications and a discussion of future research.
Practitioners find support in implications about what to
care about when designing and deploying CAs. In addition,
by presenting different waves of the development of CAs
over time, we intend to support practitioners in reacting
effectively to future trends in CA design.
2 Related Research
2.1 Conversational Agents as a System Class
and their Historical Roots
CAs are used as communication tools between humans and
technical devices. A CA involves a technological artifact
that uses natural language to engage in a dialogue with the
user, usually to fulfill a task or provide assistance (Følstad
& Skjuve, 2019; Laban & Araujo, 2019). The first agent
was developed in 1966 by Joseph Weizenbaum, who created
a computer program that could communicate with humans
via a text-based interface (Weizenbaum, 1966). These text-
based communication programs were followed by voice-
based interaction systems and embodied CAs (McTear et al.,
2016). In our bibliometric study, we discuss and consider
these various types and instantiation of agents. Many differ-
ent terms are used concerning communicative technology.
The term “conversational agent” is oftentimes used inter-
changeably with the terms “intelligent personal assistant”
(Hauswald et al., 2016), “smart personal assistant” (Knote
et al., 2021), “chatbot” (Brandtzaeg, 2018), or “conversa-
tional agent” (Feine et al., 2019). The relevance of CAs has
emerged in many disciplines and tasks, such as in customer
service that can be available 24/7, in which a bot assists cus-
tomers in handling their complaints (Qiu & Benbasat, 2009;
Behera et al., 2021). In addition, with the rise of AI, espe-
cially natural language processing (NLP), new possibilities
exist to work with and change our technology. CAs enable
us to find a new and convenient way of accessing services
and content by improving interactions between information
systems and users (Brandtzaeg, 2018; Behera et al., 2021).
Since the first construction of a CA, many advancements
have been made, enabling us not only to create Q&A
bots but also to develop intelligent bot solutions. Some
CAs use natural language to communicate with users
(Feine et al., 2019). New forms of such agents can
process compound natural language and thereby respond
to increasingly complex user requests (Knote et al., 2021),
such as Amazon’s Alexa. These assistants operate with
a voice interface reacting to individual wake words and
questions, like Alexa, what time is it?” or Alexa, is
it going to rain today?” (Fischer et al., 2019). Research
and practice are attempting to make both kinds of bots
(textual and acoustic) more human by integrating avatars
into text-based solutions (Feine et al., 2019; Purington
et al., 2017) or by integrating emotional voices (Knote
et al., 2021). Integrating human-like characteristics into
agents may cause users to exhibit emotional, cognitive,
or behavioral reactions resembling human interactions
yet can also cloud users’ understanding of the system
amer et al., 2005).
2.2 Existing Review Approaches to Study
Conversational Agents
To summarize the results of extant research efforts in a
particular field of study, researchers typically use literature
reviews. As a point of departure for our study, we identified
and studied nine literature reviews on CAs (see Table 3).
We deemed these reviews detrimental in framing and
summarizing research narratives in the CA domain, as
well as informing us on extant conceptualizations and
overviews of this system class. All of these reviews have
been published within the past five years, underlining the
current omnipresence of CAs. The majority of reviews
focus on studies from 1998 onward, thereby neglecting
first papers on CAs such as well-known first text-based
agent ELIZA (Weizenbaum, 1966). In addition, we quickly
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Information Systems Frontiers
realized that extant reviews mainly take a socio-technical
design perspective by exploring specific design themes
such as CA team collaboration (Diederich et al., 2022;
Poser et al., 2022; Stieglitz et al., 2021; Abedin et al.,
2022) or CAs for education (Smutny & Schreiberova,
2020). While these reviews allow for strong theoretical and
practical implications regarding the design of such agents
for particular contexts, we are missing a holistic overview
of the conceptual and empirical foundations of CA research
which also considers the underlying technical advances
related to CAs.
The number of studies analyzed in literature reviews
ranges from 29 articles (Rheu et al., 2021) to 262 articles
(Diederich et al., 2022). Whereas some of the literature
reviews have a more centralized view on topics involving
CAs, for example, the role of trust supporting components
(Rheu et al., 2021;V
ossing et al., 2022), others discuss
the meaning of disembodied chatbots in human-computer
interaction (Chaves & Gerosa, 2021) or characteristics of
the adoption of AI-based CAs (Rzepka & Berger, 2018;
Elshan et al., 2022). More and more questions involve a
discussion of how to make CAs more useful by experiencing
how to make them more human-like (Chaves & Gerosa,
2021) or about how to make them a better collaborative
partner in communication (Diederich et al., 2022; Elshan
et al., 2022; Poser et al., 2022; Abedin et al., 2022).
Thus, literature reviews often provide a closer look at
specific topics surrounding chatbots (e.g., trust) and serve
as a valuable contribution to the study of specific areas in
CA research.
All the literature reviews suggest areas for future
research, such as Smutny and Schreiberova (2020), who
suggested analyzing how we can support developers to
create and offer tools that allow any teacher to integrate
chatbots into their classes. Smutny and Schreiberova
(2020) analyzed educational chatbots on Meta (formerly
Facebook), this perspective could be better supported by
including literature to enrich the perspective on the topic.
Research has discussed how we can support teachers in
using CAs for their teaching (e.g., Winkler and S¨
(2018)). Other studies suggest better analyzing the behavior
in the communication of chatbots by differentiating and
considering various variables, such as gender or personality,
to detect individual designs (Bickmore et al., 2020;Ahmad
et al., 2022). Discussed across various literature reviews
is the aspect to take a closer look at the role of AI for
CAs, such as the fit between users and systems for different
AI-enabled systems (Rzepka & Berger, 2018).
Compared to other methods of literature screening,
reviews often only consider a limited, selected number of
studies. After 40 years of analyzing the role and meaning
of CAs, we should look back to identify which authors
and topics are most impactful and to discuss how and
if chatbots could determine future research. Bibliometric
analyses support us in obtaining such a perspective by
overcoming the limits of literature studies in considering
only a limited number of studies. Other than literature
reviews, bibliometric studies oftentimes analyze thousands
of publications, utilize statistical methods, and, therefore
have become a popular method to identify patterns in
collected data and work that reveal emerging trends in
research as it evolves (Trinidad et al., 2021). A bibliometric
approach can thus provide a more exhaustive overview
of extant research while simultaneously uncover patterns
and details within a research field other research methods
are incapable of. To provide an overview of related work,
we summarize the results of major CA reviews and the
bibliometric study we identified in Appendix B.
So far, only one study has used a bibliometric approach
to study CAs (Io & Lee, 2017). In their work, the
authors analyzed past research on CAs. They presented
an overview of the number of publications for each year
and calculated a cluster of keywords, research areas, and
keyword co-occurrences. However, the presented insights
and suggestions for future research (e.g., analyze other CAs,
such as mobile chats, embedded gadgets) only remain on
a surface level. With our study, we want to expand the
work of Io and Lee (2017) and overcome their limitations
in different ways. First, we performed a coding procedure
to identify relevant studies using as a tool to
determine which study fit our goal. Second, we opened up
our study by considering all kinds of CAs, enabling us to
detect trends and relationships of a specific group of CAs.
3 Methodology
The search protocol followed the preferred reporting items
for systematic reviews and meta-analyses literature search
extension (PRISMA-S) method (Rethlefsen et al., 2021).
We chose the Scopus database because it covers most
articles included in Web of Science and includes a larger
selection of technical and social science articles (Norris
& Oppenheim, 2007). The Scopus database has rigorously
maintained metadata and a curated list of journals and
conferences that are subjected to a strict inclusion process
(Baas et al., 2020; Singh et al., 2021). Several search
iterations were performed, and the authors thoroughly
examined the results to choose the most appropriate
formula. The final search formula was “chatbot*” or
“virtual assistant*” or (“conversation* agent*”) or “smart
assistant*” or “smart bot*” or “natural language interface”.
Only journal articles, conference proceedings, or book
chapters of conference proceedings that were published in
English prior to 2021 (to include complete years in the
trend analysis) were included. Reviews, editorials, and other
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Information Systems Frontiers
non-original articles were excluded. The data were down-
loaded on the 31st of May 2021. A total of 6,397 articles
were retrieved. Two reviewers (first author and third author)
reviewed 681 articles and agreed on 656, with an interrater
agreement Cohen’s Kappa of 0.963 (adjusted = 0.892). The
two authors discussed the disagreements and resolved them
based on a common understanding. Then, a single reviewer
(third author) completed the remaining articles. When the
author was in doubt, the article was classified as “maybe”
and resolved based on a review of the full text. A total
of 5,107 articles were judged as matching the inclusion
criteria, and one article was a duplicate and removed.
The data were processed, cleaned, and prepared for
analysis, so 1) the author names were manually checked
and fixed with the aid of Scopus author IDs. Authors’
names with different spellings, name changes, and spe-
cial characters were therefore fixed. 2) Publication venues
were cleaned by inspecting and fixing different venues
with the same title and spelling variations (e.g., Com-
puters & Education and Computers and Education). 3)
Keywords were compiled and cleaned with the aid of
Google Openrefine. Openrefine is an open-source soft-
ware designed to help clean up messy datasets; it offers
several NLP algorithms and clustering methods for iden-
tifying similar keywords in terms of spelling or phonetics
(e.g., “chatbot,” “chatbots, “chat bots,” “chat-bots, “chat
bot”). All such keywords with their identical alternatives
were checked carefully by the third author and merged.
Another round of keyword cleaning was performed to merge
keywords that Openrefine could not recognize, such as
“NLP” and “Natural Language Processing,” and AI” and
Artificial Intelligence”.
The cleaned dataset was analyzed using the R statistical
language Bibliometrix package (Aria & Cuccurullo, 2017).
Bibliometrix is an open-source software that offers a
wide array of tools for the analysis of bibliometric
metadata, such as authors, keywords, citations, countries,
and references. Frequencies, plots, and temporal trends were
computed and plotted using R statistical language. The top
authors were retrieved based on their number of articles
within our dataset, and their citations and evolution of
citations were computed. Co-authorship networks offer a
powerful summarization method for the visualization of
collaboration and scientific production that helped build
and shape a scientific field. The co-authorship network
was constructed based on co-authorship of the same article
(i.e., if two authors collaborated on the same article, they
were considered connected). To avoid assigning higher
weights to manuscripts with a higher number of authors,
we chose a fractional counting method to build a weighted
co-authorship network (i.e., edge weights are inversely pro-
portional to the number of authors) based on the recom
mended methods by Perianes-Rodriguez et al. (2016).
Subgroups (i.e., communities) of authors who frequently
collaborated were mapped using Louvain modularity (De
Meo et al., 2011) to highlight groups who frequently
collaborated and their contribution and influence on the
field. The resultant network was plotted using Gephi
(Bastian et al., 2009) with the Fruchterman Reingold
layout algorithm (Fruchterman & Reingold, 1991), and each
community was assigned a unique color (Fruchterman &
Reingold, 1991). For readability, the network was limited
to the top 100 authors, based on a weighted degree
threshold of 10. The country collaboration network was
constructed in the same way (fractional counting) based
on the authors’ country affiliation. Hence, two countries
were considered connected if two authors affiliated with the
two countries collaborated on the same article. The country
network was plotted using the Fruchterman Reingold layout
algorithm, and each community was assigned a unique
color (Fruchterman & Reingold, 1991), and communities
of countries who collaborated were identified using the
Louvain modularity (De Meo et al., 2011).
A keyword network was constructed using the full
counting method, where keywords in the same manuscript
were considered connected. The network of keyword
co-occurrence was plotted using Gephi and partitioned
with Louvain modularity (De Meo et al., 2011)sothat
keywords that occurred together were connected and
colored similarly.
4 Results
4.1 General Results
In the following, we reviewed the ten most cited articles
to arrive at an understanding of relevant topics driving CA
research (see Table 1).
Based on their citation numbers, we assume that these
studies are substantially relevant for establishing and
driving a common understanding of CA as a concept and
making CAs prominent in the fields of Human-Computer
Interaction (HCI) and Information Systems.
Publication dates for those ten manuscripts are dispersed,
ranging from 1994 to 2016. This dispersion points toward
the importance of the first technology established in this
field and the ongoing interest in research on CAs fueled by
ongoing advances in related technology.
4.2 Authors and Countries
In a similar vein, we analyzed the most proliferative authors,
co-citations and related countries (see Figs. 7,8and 9in
Appendix C).
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Information Systems Frontiers
Tab le 1 Top-cited Manuscripts
Author (year) Citations Keywords Category
Bickmore and Picard (2005) 581 User interfaces-evaluation / methodology, (Embodied) CA
graphical user interfaces, interaction styles,
natural language, theory and methods, voice
Androutsopoulos et al. (1995) 384 N/A Conversational Interface
Graesser et al. (2005) 375 CAs, intelligent tutoring systems, CA
natural language dialogue
Cassell et al. (1994) 340 N/A CA
Luger and Sellen (2016) 327 CAs, mental models, evaluation CA
Cassell et al. (1994) 294 Conversational characters, multimodal input, Embodied CA
intelligent agents, multimodal output
Li et al. (2016) 277 N/A CA
Vertegaal et al. (2001) 251 Attention-based interfaces, multiparty CA
communication, gaze, conversational attention,
attentive agents, eye tracking
Bickmore and Cassell (2001) 235 Embodied CA, trust, social interface, (Embodied) CA
natural language, small talk, personality
Graesser et al. (2001) 226 N/A Intelligent Agent
With 91 articles, Pelachaud is the most productive author.
Pelachaud’s works have been mainly been published in the
2010s and focus on multimodal dialogue systems, conversa-
tion and related emotional and nonverbal competencies, and
image classification. With 61 published articles, Pelachaud
is followed by Bickmore as the second most productive
author who published between 2002 and 2020. Bickmore’s
works are prominently positioned in two of the most cited
articles in CA research (see Table 1). Similar to Pelachaud’s,
Brickmore’s research is scattered over more than 20 years,
becoming more relevant around the 2010s. His work encom-
passes domain-specific CA applications, such as a hospital
companion agent (Bickmore et al., 2015) and the deploy-
ment of CAs for automated substance use screening (Bick-
more et al., 2020), and on how to build user trust through
the design of CAs (Bickmore & Cassell, 2001). The third
most productive author is Griol, with 47 published articles.
Griol’s work has mostly been published around the 2010s,
focusing on dialogue system design and user analytics (i.e.,
predicting users’ mental states from CA interaction) (Calle-
jas et al., 2011). Compared with the other two authors,
however, Griol focuses much more on speech and language
and has thus also been published more heavily in respective
outlets (Griol et al., 2008). In addition, Griol’s manuscripts
are prevalent from 2010 onwards.
In a subsequent step, we explored the co-citation
references among the important authors (see Fig. 9). Our
co-cited reference network, defined by four key clusters,
allows us to better understand how the field was built and
which theoretical foundations mainly drove CA research
throughout time.
One of the key clusters of CA literature dates back to
Turing’s (Trinidad et al., 2021) well-known paper proposing
his test to assess whether a machine can think or, has a
conscience. His paper introduced the ongoing discussion
around the ”humanness” of machines and the technical
feasibility and future of machines. Less than 20 years
later, Weizenbaum (1966) introduced the first computer
program based on natural language communication, called
ELIZA, and addressed the question of how CAs should
communicate by laying out the differences between online
and offline language. These publications represent the
first wave of research on CAs, which were interactional
interfaces built on rule-based models. Importantly, these
papers are fundamental to ongoing advances in CA research
and development (Dale, 2016).
A second dominant cluster comprises interactions among
researchers (e.g., Hochreiter and Schmidhuber (1997)) is
concerned with the underlying technical functions of CAs.
Technical methods, such as storing recent inputs for speech
processing using gradient models (Heyselaar & Bosse,
2019) or neural network-based response generation (Shang
et al., 2015; Kushwaha & Kar, 2021), can be viewed as
key contributions to the technical advancements and thus
sophistication of CA. This body of literature is composed of
the second wave of CA research around NLP and text-based
and statistical methods.
The purple-colored research cluster is defined by authors,
such as Nass, and is concerned with the personality of CAs.
In 1994, Nass et al. claimed through five experiments that
computers are social actors (CASA). Following this so-
called CASA paradigm, research on anthropomorphism and
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Information Systems Frontiers
perceiving technology as a human makes up a predominant
literature stream in contemporary CA research. More
scattered is a smaller network around the research of
Cassell et al. (1994) and Kopp and Wachsmuth (2004),
focusing on the structure of communication and nonverbal
behavior. In Cassells et al. (1994) work, elements of human
conversation are reviewed, which can be inferred from CAs.
Kopp and Wachsmuth (2004) synthesized speech-based
utterances with nonverbal modalities to achieve congruent
multimodality for CAs.
We further analyzed publications and research focus
across countries (see Fig. 9). In general, authors from
the same country published together, with an average
collaboration score of 2.46. With almost 10,000 total
citations, the United States dominate in terms of prevalent
work. A cluster of countries follows with a smaller
number of total citations, with Germany with 2,595 total
citations as the country with the second-most citations. The
United Kingdom, France, China, Italy, and Japan exhibit
between 1,000 and 2,000 citations. In a similar vein, the
mentioned countries are also the most active in terms of
collaboration across countries. As shown in Fig. 9, authors
from the United States publish their work with researchers
from many other dominant countries, including China,
Germany, the UK, Japan, Canada, India, and Australia.
We also identified a collaboration network of Western
countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland,
the Netherlands, Austria, and Portugal.
4.3 Keyword Analysis
The next step of our analysis included a detailed keyword
analysis (see Figs. 1and 2).
Our top 20 keywords AI, chatbot, neural network,
NLP, virtual assistant, and machine learning were only
limitedly used until 2015. The use of each of them greatly
increased during the last 5–7 years. This is different
from the keywords affective computing, embodied CA,
emotion, natural language interface, and virtual agent.
These keywords have no linear or clear development, but all
of them increase over time. Lastly, deep learning has been
relevant from the beginning onward, similar to the keyword
dialogue system. A comparison of keyword development
will demonstrate that some keywords are more dominant
than others.
The keyword most prominent from 2003 to around 2016
was “embodied conversational agents”. The development
of this keyword has decreased since 2017. Other than this,
Fig. 1 Distribution of the Top 20 Keywords per Year
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Fig. 2 Yearly Distribution of Keywords
the keyword “conversational agent” has been used more
often in studies beginning in 2007. This is similar to the
keyword chatbot, which has become more and more relevant
beginning in 2015. All other keywords, such as Human-
Computer Interaction or NLP, have been relevant over
the last couple of years on a continuous level and to a
high frequency.
4.4 Keyword Cluster
Turning toward the 50 most prominent keywords in CA
literature, the definition of the system class represents the
most relevant type of keywords. 11 out of the 50 top
keywords refer to a particular system class, such as chatbot,
embodied CA, or virtual assistant.
The most prominent are text-based CAs, with the chat-
bot(s) being most frequent, followed by embodied CAs.
These different definitions and connotations of CAs point
toward the multitude of types and diversity of CAs, also
dependent on the modality of the CA or the publishing outlet
of a paper. This diversity also illustrates the fragmentation
of CA research and lack of agreement on the terminol-
ogy. Another prominent keyword cluster is the reference to
the technical model of the CA discussed. Approximately
26% of the top keywords provide insights into the statis-
tical models, pointing toward the importance of technical
advances for the proliferation of CAs. AI, machine learning,
and natural language (processing) dominate the keywords,
which also illustrates how this technical interplay makes
the architecture of CAs unique. Approximately 30% of the
50 most prominent keywords illustrate the research focus.
Some keywords include related technology relied upon,
such as virtual or augmented reality and the Internet of
Things. The most relevant research focuses are trust and
anthropomorphism, and agent personality and emotions.
Interaction-related questions around the multimodality of
CAs and the dialogue structure also dominate the keywords
in the research focus. Oftentimes, the research domain of
a publication is indicated in the keywords. Domains dom-
inating the CA literature include HCI, affective comput-
ing, and ontology-related matters. Lastly, keywords indicate
the interaction context of a publication (12 out of the 50
top keywords). CA studies seem to be deployed mostly
in question answering, information retrieval, and evalua-
tion interactions. E-learning and mental health represent
relevant interaction contexts, which have also seen great
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Information Systems Frontiers
Fig. 3 Relative Yearly Distribution of Corporate Affiliations
prominence in recent publications (Androutsopoulos et al.,
1995; Chaves & Gerosa, 2021; Følstad & Skjuve, 2019;
Hauswald et al., 2016).
Turning toward keyword clusters (Fig. 10), we see
that certain tasks and CAs are commonly associated with
specific terminology. The term “conversational agent” is
mostly linked to terms concerned with the conversational
nature and dialogue of the interaction, such as natural
language and dialogue management. Tasks such as question
answering and information retrieval are associated with
CAs. Lastly, smart personal assistants, such as Amazons
Alexa, are linked to the term as well. The term “voice
user interface” appears within the CA cluster, yet is
not linked to any further words. An equally extensive
keyword cluster exists around the term “chatbot”. Chatbots
are predominantly studied in interaction contexts around
education, e-learning, and deception detection. Technical
models, such as NLP, deep learning, and machine learning,
appear here. The chatbot cluster is closely linked with a
smaller cluster around the term AI, where other technical
keywords, such as automation, sentiment analysis, and big
data, are found.
The term “embodied conversational agent”, is more con-
cerned with additional modalities, including the avatar or
facial expression of the agent. In this context, the personality
and emotions of agents are commonly discussed.
Most technical advancements seem to have been
empirically investigated in the context of text-based CAs.
Voice-based CAs find little appearance in our keyword
cluster, which may be the result of a certain choice of
dominant keywords or voice-based CAs not having been
researched as extensively as text-based ones. The term
“conversational agent” does not necessarily seem to act
as an overarching term for the different types of agents.
Moreover, certain tasks and contexts are connoted with
certain terminology.
4.5 Corporate Affiliations
Given the commercial availability of CAs and the increasing
research focus within large technical companies, we deem
corporate affiliations a noteworthy aspect to be mentioned
when discussing the past, present, and future of CAs
(see Fig. 3).
Publications by corporate affiliations were dominated by
IBM and Microsoft until 2008, followed by Google from
2009 until 2011. From 2012 onwards, publications by com-
mercially affiliated researchers have become increasingly
fragmented (i.e., through a greater number of players and
Asian companies, such as Baidu, becoming apparent). Turn-
ing toward the temporal development of corporate-related
keywords, we identified a steady increase in the frequency
of these keywords since 2000 and a steep increase since
2017 (see Fig. 4). More specifically, Google is most fre-
quently listed as a keyword in 2020 (N = 78), followed by
Met1(N = 49) and Microsoft (N = 41). Whereas Eastern
players (i.e., Baidu, ASAPP) have increased in appear-
ance, western players still dominate. Regardless, corporate
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Information Systems Frontiers
Fig. 4 Development of Corporate-affiliated Keywords over Years
players currently dominate fundamental research on the
underlying technologies required to advance CA research.
Especially natural language technologies and large language
models such as GPT by OpenAI (Brown et al., 2020b),
the Galactica model by Meta (Taylor et al., 2022)orthe
LaMDA model by Google (Thoppilan et al., 2022)are
essentially driven and funded by corporate players.
5 Discussion and Contributions
5.1 Five Waves of Conversational Agent Research
In this section we present our five wave view on CAs and
CA research. First, we present the first age of CAs that
represents the past of CAs. Second, we present the second
age of CAs that reflects the present and future of CAs
and CA research. We emphasize on the second half and
elaborate on current and novel frontiers for CA research. We
present our five-wave view of the historical development of
CA research, the current status quo, and a future projection
based on our research results in Fig. 5.
Regarding RQ1, we studied how research around CAs
developed over time. In this sense, we identified key
publications established around CAs. As the term “chatbot”
is already disclosed, the first research contributing to the
understanding and exploration of CAs was concerned with
the humanness of machines and how interaction with such
machines resembles and differentiates one from human
interaction. Remarkable contributions to that time were
those by Turing and Weizenbaum when the first CAs like
ELIZA came into existence. By examining past research,
we can observe that CA research has undergone certain
incremental steps that most likely have been enabled by
technological advancements. We call these incremental
or evolutionary steps in CA research “the waves of
CA research”.
5.1.1 The Past of Conversational Agents
Circling back to the very beginning of CAs, we can
observe that the emergence of CAs focused on rather crude
artifacts with predetermined and programmed structure. In
this regard, the emergence of CAs, which is rooted in the
very first, simple, and rule-based CAs like ELIZA, would
mark the first wave of CA research the “zero hour” wave.
This first wave of CAs was concerned with achieving a
computer program that can resemble a conversation with
a human under specific conditions that are predetermined.
The first wave had strict technical limitations due to
the computational capabilities of that era and therefore
couldn’t produce more advanced artifacts. However, with
the technological advancements that followed the decades
after ELIZA and the current technological developments,
more waves have followed and will follow.
The second wave of CA research presented us with more
advanced CAs that, for the first time, made use of NLP
and statistical methods. Furthermore, first CAs appeared
that could somewhat understand and resemble human
emotions via scripted dialogue. In general, the second wave
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Information Systems Frontiers
CA Research Maturity
1st Wave
“zero hour wave”
2nd Wave
“explore wave”
3rd Wave
“kick-off wave”
4th Wave
“hype wave”
5th Wave
“AI wave”
-“True AI
- Full automation
- NLU, kNN
- Adaptable AI
- Self-learning AI
- Autonomous CAs
- 100B+ LLMs
- AI “lite”
- Omnipresent CAs
- Voice-based CAs
- Advanced NLP
- Ontology & semantic
- “AI” & AIML
- Pattern recognition
- Embodied CAs
-Affective CAs
- Simple scripted CAs
- Turing-proof
- Statistical methods
- NLP, text-methods
- Scripted emotions
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
Apple Siri
Amazon Alexa
Google Assistant
IBM Watson
- Frameworks
- “CA” established
- Experimental use
- Real-world use
- Big tech attention
“2nd age of CAs”
“1st age of CAs”
Fig. 5 The Five Waves of Conversational Agent Research
resembles what we describe as the explorational stage of
CA research; hence, the “explore” wave. In this regard,
the first CAs from Jabberwacky also started to aim at
natural, enjoyable, and even hedonistic dialogue that today’s
smart CAs have inherited (Lee et al., 2020). Moreover,
with the second wave, methods such as pattern recognition
and the first simple AI solutions made their wave into CA
research. This led to dedicated languages, and somewhat
more advanced CAs entering the playing field. The most
prominent example from that era is the A.L.I.C.E. (release
1995) and the special language it was programmed with, the
so-called artificial intelligence markup language (Wallace,
2009). Based on the former advancements in technology
leading toward the first AI applications, the focus of this
wave was on developing CAs based on first AI solutions.
However, although this wave brought first attempts at AI in
CA research, AI itself was still in a very early stage due
to technological limitations and the virtual non-existence
of voice-based CAs. In addition to these developments, the
first embodied CAs with anthropomorphic features emerged
and became somewhat popular. Although best efforts to
humanize CAs were made (Porra et al., 2020), because of
technological limitations, this wave of CAs never managed
to overcome the uncanny valley of CAs, thus marking a
significant gap in research and practice that in some areas
persists until today.
With the third wave of CA research, the entire
topic of CAs gained significant momentum enabled by
the technological advancements in the 2000s and the
mid-2000s, particularly effectively launching the CA
developments that we still witness today; hence, we describe
this wave as the “kick-off” wave. This kick-off is reflected
in both the development of CAs and related technology
(e.g., frameworks, implementations) and the emergence
and distribution of keywords. For instance, the keywords
AI,” “chatbot, and “human-computer interaction” started
to emerge in 2000–2005. Regarding AI”, although the
first approaches in CA research existed before 2000 (e.g.,
AIML), none of these represented “true” AI capabilities that
first started to emerge about 2005—at least in the domain of
CA research. This development translates to the emergence
of further technologies and implementations, such as IBM
Watson in 2006. With the release of Watson, IBM became
the first big tech company to release a sophisticated product
in the domain of CAs. That development started to draw
significant attention from other big-tech companies in the
following years. This also marked a significant milestone
in the domain of CA research, which one may see as
the steppingstone into the realm of advanced CAs that
are omnipresent today (e.g., Alexa). Another important
keyword that emerged in this wave of CA research is
“multimodality”. The emergence of this keyword at that
time highlights that what should come after, which is
what we see to be omnipresent today voice-based and
multimodal CAs.
5.1.2 The Present of Conversational Agents
With the revolution of the mobile phone market (i.e.,
the release of the Apple iPhone in 2007) and general
consumer electronics that followed during the 2010s and
the technological developments that came with it, the
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Information Systems Frontiers
steppingstone for the fourth wave of CA research was
laid out. In the 2010s, many advanced CAs enabled by
significant advancements in technology, particularly in AI
and NLP, became mainstream and even omnipresent in
our everyday lives. Moreover, traditional text-based CA
applications have started to shift to voice-based CAs. CAs
enjoyed a real hype from academia to the corporate that
swept over into the real world. First, AI “lite” CAs emerged
that made use of more than simple rule-based, statistical,
or light AI” methods. These implementations of CAs were
able to use a wider variety of natural language, including
first natural language understanding (e.g., the meaning
behind the language) and communication modalities (e.g.,
first voice-based CAs, voice versus text (Rzepka et al.,
2021)), in contrast to their predecessors. These voice-based
CAs made them tangible to the broader population, given
that they can be operated without the need to type in the
text. This in return led to a vast increase in popularity and,
subsequently, further development, research, and financial
investment into these agents, as not only researchers but
also big tech players like Google or Amazon realized the
potential. Nowadays, many people cannot imagine a life
without CAs like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri (Kendall
et al., 2020).
Looking back at our keyword analysis, some keywords,
in particular, can be observed to have skyrocketed in the
2010s, specifically since 2015. The keywords “chatbot”
and “conversational agent” highlight the real hype CA
research received from 2015 onwards. Moreover, from a
more technical point of view, the keywords AI,” “NLP,” and
“machine learning” showcase what future road CA research
may take. Particularly, the keyword “deep learning” that
first emerged in CA research after 2015 emphasizes that
potential AI-route CA research may take in the following
years of the current decade. Overall, machine learning and
AI seem to be two of the core topics of current wave of CA
research and the current as generation CAs as well as novel
CA artifacts (Suta et al., 2020).
This development is reflected in the current technologies
being used for developing CAs. For instance, the conver-
sational AI framework Rasa (Bocklisch et al., 2017), that
was recognized by Gartner to be one of the key providers
and technology offerings (Revang et al., 2022), can make
use of the advanced capabilities mentioned above. In this
regard, Rasa can be build to include spaCy (Honnibal et al.,
2020) and BERT (Devlin et al., 2018) for its’ natural lan-
guage pipeline. These technologies allow Rasa to overcome
the limitations of past frameworks that failed to understand
natural language to a large extend and heavily relied on
click-based solutions. This development also highlights the
importance of NLU technologies for the present and future
of CAs and CA research as well as the quickly and vastly
growing capabilities of these technologies that enable next
generation CAs and thus further pushing the frontiers of CA
Following up on these technological advancements and
continuously evolving CAs academics and professionals
alike have to wonder where the journey leads and how
they address the upcoming challenges or leverages the
opportunities. Concluding the fourth wave of CA research,
we have observed a stronger focus on natural language
understanding and the emergence of novel and advanced
voice-based CAs. Based on our research, we project that
this development will continue and discuss a potential
future route and their frontiers for the fifth wave of CA
research next.
5.1.3 The Future of Conversational Agents
As we look at the frontiers of CA research and develop-
ments, we especially have to look at the future of CAs.
Building upon the four distinct waves of CA research, we
outline the future of CAs as the fifth wave that may bring
even more remarkable changes for the interaction of CAs
and also how we interact with Information Systems in gen-
eral. Considering the development of keywords over time,
we predict that topics around “true” or “general” AI will
significantly gain in importance. These topics about true AI
include full automation and autonomous CAs, which may
be enabled by future advancements toward self-learning
and real-time adaptable AI applications. Current examples
include for instance the Google conversational technology
“LaMDA2(Language Model for Dialogue Applications
Thoppilan et al., (2022) that provides through training of
a transformer model on conversations new capabilities for
natural language interactions. We specifically point out the
frontier to a “general” AI as Google LaMDA gained wide
media coverage through a Google developer who claimed
that LaMDA is sentient and, in essence, is a self-aware
person (Thoppilan et al., 2022).
Moreover, the actual understanding of natural language
and the intentions behind it (i.e., what humans mean vs.
sarcasm) may become more important and powerful, based
on advanced deep learning and NLU methods (Suta et al.,
2020). Especially the development of generative AI and
according large language models bring in beta versions
of the future of CAs. Most remarkable is the release of
the beta version of OpenAI’s ChatGPT based on further
developments of GPT (Stokel-Walker, 2022; Brown et al.,
2020b) end of November 2022, called by experts as the
most disruptive AI technology in 2022 and the future
(Haque et al., 2022). This technology is enabling a wide
range of tasks during a conversational interaction, such
as writing essays (Sun et al., 2022), helping with coding
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Information Systems Frontiers
(Castelvecchi, 2022) and other creative tasks (Davenport &
Mittal, 2022). A widespread adoption of these developments
would potentially enable CAs to become even more human-
like, to the point where humans may mistake a CA for a
real human as in the above introduced example of Google
LaMDA (Thoppilan et al., 2022). We can observe this
trend quite clearly when looking at the development of
certain keywords, particularly AI,” “machine learning,”
“natural language processing,” “neural network,” and “deep
learning.” All these keywords showed either a huge
spike (i.e., hype) in the last five years or continuous
steep development.
In addition, topics like embodiment and virtual agents,
including avatars and other anthropomorphic approaches,
may increase in significance as our ability to model
human-like digital artifacts develops. For instance, AI-
driven intelligent embodied CAs may become more popular
and, with increasing advancements, blur the lines between
CAs and robot artifacts (Huang & Rust, 2021). This
development is especially fueled through the development
of “text-to-output” models such Open AI’s DALL·E2
(Ramesh et al., 2022) or other latent diffusion models e.g.,
Rombach et al. (2021). Interfaces building upon machine
learning pipelines that combine sophisticated CA interfaces,
such as ChatGPT (Stokel-Walker, 2022), with avatar
generators could enable in the future fully customizable
CAs with a previously unmatched degree of social presence
and anthropomorphism. By these means, adaptability,
personalization, and individualization of human-computer
interactions via CAs will become more significant (Abedin
et al., 2022; Behera et al., 2021). Future developments
might include in this context that interactions are not only
based on historical data but also real-time data. For instance,
the ChatGPT (Stokel-Walker, 2022) CA is trained on a
large language model with a cut-off point end of the
year 2021. Recent developments around generative AI and
LLM illustrate that, just like AI, CAs and their technical
sophistication are a moving target. Moving from the
niches of computer science to standard technology, users’
expectations regarding CAs’ capabilities will continuously
increase. In turn, interacting with CAs will become even
more easily accessible, effortless, and integrated in humans’
daily personal and work life.
5.2 Implications for Conversational Agent Research
Although the discussion around the personification and
design of CAs frontend remains crucial (Elshan et
al. 2023), technology-related topics have become the center
of innovative current wave CA research. Advancements
in technological models and understanding thereof have
made contemporary CAs sophisticated and commercially
available to the large public. Public omnipresence, in turn,
has introduced tech corporations into the academic research
field, with both of them becoming increasingly intertwined.
This is also highlighted in the predominance of our affiliate
results and influences research streams with corporate
With RQ2, we aimed to shed light on the current
understanding and focus of the predominant research
streams studying CAs. Our keyword clusters illustrate the
dominance of certain types of CAs, including chatbots and
embodied CAs. Interestingly, certain tasks, contexts, and
technical models are commonly associated with different
terms. These findings either indicate the relevance of
certain CAs for particular domains or point toward the
fragmentation of CAs across research outlets. While
research into voice-based CAs has increased over the past
few years, it has not yet been established as research
around chatbots.
A better understanding of the distinguishing features of
certain modalities and the interplay of certain modalities is
required to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the
different types of CAs (Rzepka et al., 2021). In a similar
vein, initial research driven by the CASA paradigm and
the Turing test found great prevalence in contemporary
studies. Our keyword results show that the research focus
on CA personalization and anthropomorphization to create
a more natural and effortless interaction can, in turn, affect
important outcome variables, including usage, satisfaction,
and trust (Rheu et al., 2021; Abedin et al., 2022). Trust
is also one of the key issue of research on CAs (McTear
et al., 2016;V
ossing et al., 2022). Considering the vast
developments about machine learning, AI, and imprudent
exploitation of user data by large corporations, we find that
future research should address matters of privacy, trust, and
trustworthiness of contemporary CAs.
In this regard, we assume that topics like explainable
and ethical AI will gain importance in the future which
is supported by recent research (Abedin et al., 2022).
Questions of how a CA’s underlying model behaves and
affects users become even more important. While a system’s
behavior based on machine learning was largely shaped by
its input data, large language model introduce a novel facet
of opacity to the user. Although we cannot support this with
our research results, given that this was not an explicit focus
of ours, other research highlights the increasing importance
of explainable and ethical AI, particularly in the context of
human-computer interactions and CA research. However,
what does this mean for the long-term development of
CA research? In particular, the underlying functions and
interrelatedness within a larger commercial ecosystem
are becoming increasingly opaque. What are apparent,
understandable, and important to the user are notions
of trustworthy system design (transparency, explainability,
privacy) and relevance of user trust? We see this already
becoming a topic of most recent research e.g., V¨
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Information Systems Frontiers
et al. (2022) and Abedin et al. (2022). Future research will
need to investigate the longitudinal outcomes, habits, and
dynamics of users about trust in CAs and the underlying
AI, especially when looking at current developments
that strongly emphasize data-driven methods for CAs, as
our keyword results showcase. Nonetheless, given that
CAs, such as Amazon’s Alexa, are currently lacking
profitable use cases (Mattioli et al., 2022), implications arise
that aspects of transparency in conversational interactions
should be carefully addressed. For instance, CAs are able to
provide recommendations to products in conversational use
processes (Schwede et al., 2022), however, ethical questions
regarding the transparency and trustworthiness remain when
a CA casually during interactions nudges towards product
choice (Benner et al., 2022). At the same time, users’
expectations regarding the capabilities of CAs’ will increase
and the need for explainable AI and transparency potentially
decrease, especially from a user’s perspective. In addition,
regardless of whether organizations decide to acquire or
build their own CAs, the responsibility lies with them. As
a result, we expect to see a shift of research emphasis from
trust in the system towards trust in the provider.
Nevertheless, technological changes represent not only
challenges like trust but also opportunities to further
increase natural and effortless interaction with CAs. How-
ever, the underlying technical properties and the conver-
sational nature of CAs are still fairly rarely considered in
CA research. As our keyword and cluster analysis revealed,
most current CA research focuses on only one specific
topic (i.e., dialogue structure, anthropomorphism, and tech-
nical models underlying CA). Looking at related studies
(see Appendix B), we find that most research is focused
on literature only from the year 2000 or newer and does
not include more than 100 articles. We find only one
comparable study from Io and Lee (2017), who analyzed
approximately 4200 articles, however only from the year
1998 onwards. All other studies we find to be comparable
have a more traditional literature review approach and seem
to focus on some specific topic. For instance CAs in busi-
ness, collaboration setting or specific charateristics of CAs
(e.g., Poser et al. (2022)).
Another important topic we considered when analyzing
the domain of CA research was the interplay of academia,
research, and the corporate world. We can observe that
during the early 2000s, the development of CAs was
still driven mainly by academia and independent research.
However, this strongly shifted during the 2010s with big
corporations (e.g., Google) becoming major affiliates in the
domain of CA research. Considering the past developments
and current affiliate status in the last year (2020), we predict
that affiliations with big-tech corporations will continue
to increase. Furthermore, with the increasing interest of
Chinese players (e.g., Baidu), we may see a shift toward
Chinese affiliations during the next years.
However, based on our observations, American-based
corporate affiliates are unlikely to lose their dominant
position in the market and CA research. Although our
analyses on commercially-funded publications could not
consider all potential sources and thus should be interpreted
with caution, they provide a first glimpse into emerging
sectors. These results call into question which players are
and will drive research on CAs. The commercial availability
of CAs, as well as the reliance on these commercially
available CAs within empirical research (i.e., experimental,
laboratory, ethnographic, or diary-based studies), illustrate
that companies will have an influential stake in driving and
shaping CA research. This is right now also visible through
the development that underlying technical papers on large
language models such as GPT were previously published
(Brown et al., 2020b) but technologies such as ChatGPT
now remain proprietary. On the opposite, initiatives such as
BigScience (2022) try to counteract this trend to provide
open language models such as BLOOM (BigScience,
2022b) as the basis for novel CA developments.
Concerning the academic developments of CA research,
regardless of affiliations, most technical advancements have
been empirically investigated in the context of a text-
based CA. A voice-based CA finds little appearance in
our keyword cluster, which may be the result of a certain
choice of dominant keywords or voice-based agents not
having been researched as extensively as text-based ones.
As explained in our five-wave view on CA research, this
observation reflects a natural development in CA research,
and we expect voice-based CA research to become more
popular and potentially become the modality of choice in
the future (e.g., Rzepka et al. (2021)). The CA does not
necessarily seem to act as an overarching term for the
different types of agents. Certain tasks and contexts are
connoted with certain terminology.
Furthermore, we want to highlight the development of
keywords again, particularly for some keywords which
exhibit erratic appearance over time. Considering the
steep and steady increase of certain keywords like
“embodied conversational agents” and “virtual agent,
CA research seems to show an increasing interest in
further anthropomorphizing CAs. This is also reflected
in the increasing appearance of keywords like “affective
computing” and “emotion,” which both aim to make CAs
more human-like by touching on the very human subjects
of interpersonal human-human interactions. Similarly, we
can observe a real hype of AI and machine learning-related
keywords from 2015 until today. Considering concepts like
the Gartner hype cycle, we assume that this development
represents a novel hype of AI-related technology that we
predict will grow even further in the future, given that
keywords on these topics show a very strong near-linear
increase without deviation. Considering the interest of big
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Information Systems Frontiers
corporate techs in AI and related topics that oftentimes act
as affiliates of CA research, we predict this development to
be at the core of the fifth wave of CA research toward true
AI-driven CAs.
Overall, with our RQs, we intended to clarify the
origin, development, status quo, and future of CAs. Thus,
we contribute to theory by providing a more nuanced
and holistic understanding of the types of CAs and
summarizing an overview of waves of the development of
CA research and the differentiation and development of
keywords into clusters. In doing so, we have highlighted the
past, current, and potential future patterns in CA research
and the implications that come with the evolutionary
development of CA research. From a practical point of
view, we highlighted the shift in the design of CAs
and a relevant, related technical model and provided an
overview of relevant topics to consider when designing
and deploying CAs. In particular, we highlighted the
noticeable shift toward AI-driven CAs that may incorporate
sophisticated self-learning AI techniques for a more
autonomous and human-like interaction (e.g., through better
natural language understanding, affective computing, and
5.3 Implications for Potential Actionable Directions
The implications for CA research can be translated
to actionable directions for practice. To illustrate the
implications and describe potential future frontiers of CA
research we have compiled a table describing these based
on our findings (see Table 4).
First, the technological developments of CA research
and also advancements in related fields like AI have
raised the bar for technological requirements and are
likely to continue this trend. This requires researchers and
corporations alike to adapt to the increasing technological
demands and expand their resources in order to support
novel technologies for novel CA artifacts like AI-driven
CAs. We can already witness this development with the
advancements that OpenAI and GPT have presented us
with. However, looking closer at OpenAI it is evident that
this corporate player is not only interested in developing
frontier level technology for CA research but also in
monetizing it. Such strategic decisions might have larger
implications on the CA landscape, including organizations
deciding whether to “make or buy” generative AI-based
CAs. Considering how past technological advancements
have been used by corporate players and monetized, this
may raise the concern of the technology going proprietary
and paid. This could become a hindrance in further
advancing the frontiers of CA research as many researchers
or practitioners may be disinclined to comply with
these terms.
Considering the raised implications for CA research,
CA artifacts incorporating AI should focus on transparency
and trust in an ever increasing environment of omnipresent
data e.g., Elshan et al. (2022)andV
ossing et al. (2022).
Data not only allows AI to deliver AI-based core function-
ality including improved natural language processing and
understanding capabilities but also adaptabiliy. For instance,
data-driven approaches can be used to individualize and per-
sonalize CAs in order to provide an improved experience
and performance (Behera et al., 2021). However, personal-
ization and improved experience based on user data must
be transparent with its use and explain what data is used
when and for what purpose (i.e., explainable AI). This is a
trend we can already partially observe in our five waves of
CA research presentation. With regard to individualization
and personalization of CAs, AI is only one relevant aspect,
another relevant aspect is the design of such AI-driven
artifacts (Behera et al., 2021).
This, however, has different implications for each type of
CA as well as the types of interaction users can have with
CAs (e.g., text-based, voice-based, embodied) (Nguyen
et al., 2021). The intricacies of each type of CA will
have to be detangled for future generations of potentially
AI-driven individualized CAs and their designs and user
interfaces (Abedin et al., 2022). Particularly with regard to
potential challenges with trust or ethical questions and AI,
as well as bias in the underlying technologies (e.g., machine
learning algorithms). In this regard, characteristics like
natural language, tonality (voice only), visual representation
(embodied only) and potentially novel emerging design
aspects will require deep dive investigation on their own,
particularly in context of the raised potential issues and
how to design explainable, ethical and unbiased CA
artifacts (Abedin et al., 2022; Benner et al., 2022).
Last, we expect the questions of how CAs (will) behave
and their implications for how humans interact, work,
and rely on external advice, to be more important than
ever. Thus, we want to encourage fellow researchers to
consider our implications for CA research and raised
actionable directions.
Overall, there are multiple actionable directions for
future research for the current wave of CA research as well
as the next generation of CAs and followingly the next wave
of CA research.
6 Limitations, Future Research
and Conclusion
In this article, we have compiled, organized, and analyzed a
vast body of literature on CAs in the IS domain and related
fields. In doing so, we have highlighted how research has
developed from the very first CA artifacts (e.g., ELIZA)
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Information Systems Frontiers
to current state of the art CAs like Alexa. We have
described the past and present CA research (RQ1 and
RQ2). Further, we have highlighted potential future research
streams according to our keyword analysis, pointing out
what topics are currently state of the art and what will be
the focus of research in the future (i.e., next developmental
generation of CAs), thus answering RQ3. Here, we
have pointed out that future research may likely see a
strong focus on data-driven and AI-driven approaches, as
highlighted by our keyword analysis and five-wave view on
CA research.
In this context, we have highlighted the developmental
waves of CA research from the beginning (i.e., the 1960s)
to our current time and what could be the next big
wave for CA research (i.e., data and AI). In addition, we
have pointed out some limitations in the existing body of
research on CAs and the importance of addressing these
potential gaps. However, these research gaps should be
seen as opportunities, as highlighted by the development
of keywords leaning toward AI-driven methods. Moreover,
we have briefly highlighted some comparative studies with
a similar yet different focus and contribution to provide a
more holistic overview of the past, present, and future of
CA research.
Although we conducted our research according to estab-
lished research guidelines and used established statistical
methods that we followed as rigorously as possible, our
research may not be without limitations. First, although we
did our best to include as many relevant articles as possible
by choosing the appropriate keywords and outlets and not
using limitations like publication year restrictions, we may
have missed some niche domain or research stream. More-
over, we may not have included literature that uses more
specific keywords exclusively. An example of this would
be research that uses ”smart personal assistant/agent” as
keywords. Second, only two of the authors reviewed the lit-
erature in detail and made decisions to include or exclude
the literature. Reviewing the articles with more or other
reviewers may have led to different results and, thus, a
somewhat divergent body of literature.
Overall, our research highlights the past, present, and
potential future development of CA research covering impli-
cations for research and practice. Both partial contributions
come together in our presented five-wave view on CA
research, thus highlighting the origins of CAs, their devel-
opment until today, and potential future developments with
the next big wave (i.e., data- and AI-driven CAs). On the
one hand, our research contributes to theory by highlight-
ing this development and pointing out our potential future
research venues based on our keyword analysis, derived five
waves of CA research and the implications of these find-
ings. On the other hand, our research contributes to practice
by highlighting the technical developments based on our
keyword analysis and the indicated affiliations with the big-
tech corporate world that currently drives CA research in
various areas, particularly AI-related topics. Moreover, our
five waves of CA research highlight the current status quo
and ongoing development future that can form the basis for
future CA developments and directions. Here, we find AI
and relevant topics related to it (e.g., trust in AI, explain-
able AI) to be very likely to continue the throughout the
next wave.
In general, we hope that our research provides both
researchers and practitioners with an exhaustive and holistic
overview of CA research with an emphasis on future
developments and research opportunities that should and
most likely will be addressed within the current decade
when considering the fifth wave of CA research.
A: Descriptive Results
In our study, we present articles published from 1982
to 2021. A summary of the main information is given
in Table 2.
Tab le 2 Summary of General Statistics of Bibliometric Analysis
General Data
Sources (Journals, Books, etc.) 1,920
Documents 5,106
Average years from publication 5.81
Average citation per document 8.047
Average citation per year per document 1.237
Document Types
Articles 1,290
Book chapters 130
Conference papers 3,686
Document Contents
Keywords plus (ID) 14.801
Authors’ keywords (DE) 8.327
An overview of the annual scientific production over the
years and the average article citations per year is shown
in Fig. 6.
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Fig. 6 Annual Scientific
Production and Citations. (The
size of the circle is proportional
to the number of citations)
B: Related Work
Tab le 3 Summary of Related Literature Reviews and Bibliometric Studies
Author Method Review Focus of Study Research Implications
(Year) (Sample Size) Period
Chaves and Gerosa (2021) Literature review Up to Analysis of social characteristics Analyze if and how moral agency improves
(56 articles) 2018 of disembodied chatbots communications with bots Analyze social
in the HCI context characteristics of embodied chatbots
Diederich et al. (2019) Literature review Up to Discussion of status quo in CA in team collaboration settings
(36 articles) 2018 research involving CAs Conduct more design-oriented studies
Explore embodied agents
Study CA introduction and use in the field
Diederich et al. (2022) Organizing and Up to Analysis of CA design and 6 research avenues for CA in IS
assessing review 2019 research streams 16 actionable directions for research
(262 articles) Call for longitudinal studies
Elshan et al. (2022) Literat ure review No limits Understanding of User Acceptance Conflict of adaptability and standardization
(107 articles) of CAs and future research
Investigation in freedom and autonomy needed
Investigating effects of CA components
Rheu et al. (2021) Literature Review Up to Discussion and analysis of Research should focus on optimization
(29 articles) 2019 trust supporting components Analyze role of trust and user expectations
Optimization and trust in AI by design
Rzepka and Berger (2018) Literature Review Up to Characteristics of adoption Beneficial degree of anthropomorphism
(96 articles) 2018 of AI-based CAs Differences in user behavior towards AI
Effect of transparency and AI on interaction
Negative interactions between user and AI
Smutny and Schreiberova (2020) Field Analysis No Analysis of educational Support CA integration in education
(89 CAs) limits CAs on Meta Content analysis of CAs with users
Van Pinxteren et al. (2020) Literature review From 1999 Effect of CA behavior on Analyze user needs and group preferences
(61 articles) to 2018 outcomes for service encounters Analyze categories of communicative behavior
Analyze (non-)verbal behavior relations
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Tab le 3 (continued)
Author Method Review Focus of Study Research Implications
(Year) (Sample Size) Period
Io and Lee (2017) Bibliometric study From 1998 Analyze the past of CA research New trends to analyze role of CAs
(61 articles) to 2017 Change way of CA development
Analyze business roles and use of CAs
C: Network Graphs
Fig. 7 Author Network
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Fig. 8 Co-citation References
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Fig. 9 Country Network
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Fig. 10 Keyword Cluster
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D: Future Frontiers for CA Research
Tab le 4 Proposed Frontiers for the Future of CA Research
Frontier Current Status and Directions for Future
Theory Status quo: Many past and current studies rely on old theories not native to CA research (e.g., social presence (Short
et al., 1976), computers as social actors (Nass et al., 1994))
Directions: We call for native CA research theories that are based on and adapted to the boundaries of human-agent
interaction. Researchers may draw on the existing theories but should advance CA research theory towards a
stand-alone theoretical base.
Technical Status quo: Advanced natural language models and machine learning algorithms are being used but no “true” AI
Directions: Research should focus on establishing a “true” conversational AI. Fundamental technical advances have been
made, especially with large language models (e.g., BLOOM, GPT) but need to be developed towards true
human natural language and especially human thinking including social features e.g., social cues, humor,
sarcasm (Allouch et al., 2021).
Design Status quo: Most current CAs do not include personalized features, trust or explainable AI features or feature believeable
Directions: Researchers and developers need to find a way to personalize CAs but at the same time respect ethical
boundaries and establish trust in the CA and the underlying mechanisms. In this context persuasive design
features may provide a solution, however their boundaries must be respected (Benner et al., 2022)
General Status quo: Most CA software, programs, libraries, models, etc. are free and open source. This fosters CA research and
enables independant researchers to contribute.
Directions: While monetarization is important for corporate players, restriction of access may have serious adverse effects
and hinder development and contributions by independant researchers and developers. Therefore, corporate
players must find a balance between monetarization and open access
Managerial Status quo: Many companies use CAs but most being simple clickbots or less advances CAs that may even hurt the
Directions: Managers should transform their customer interaction and invest on CAs with actual conversational capability
to improve user experience and their market position (Abedin et al., 2022).
Society Status quo: CAs already have a significant impact on society which is expected to extend.
Directions: Emergent fields of application for CAs as well as transforming existing fields and pushing the boundaries
may become even more significant with increased societal impact (Wahde & Virgolin, 2022)
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Acknowledgements The authors acknowledge partial funding of the
following funding bodies: “Stiftung Innovation in der Hochschullehre”
within the project “Universit¨
at Kassel digital: Universit¨
are Lehre
neu gestalten”, Swiss National Science Foundation (project ID:
100013 192718), Academy of Finland (Suomen Akatemia) Research
Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering for the project Towards
precision education: Idiographic learning analytics (TOPEILA),
Decision Number 350560, and the fifth author acknowledges personal
funding from the Basic Research Fund (GFF) of the University of St.
Funding Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt
Authors two and three have contributed equally. The authors have no
conflicts of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this
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Information Systems Frontiers
Sofia Sch ¨
obel is an assistant professor in information systems at the
University of Osnabr¨uck. She has written her Ph.D. about gamification
in digital learning from the University of Kassel. Her research focuses
on persuasive system design, designing smart personal assistants,
digital transformation of services, and the design of interactive
processes in digital learning. Her research has been published in
different outlets such as the European Journal of Information Systems,
Communications of the AIS and in leading information systems
conferences such as ICIS or ECIS.
Anuschka Schmitt is a research associate and Ph.D. candidate
at the Institute of Information Management at the University of
St.Gallen (HSG), Switzerland and currently a visiting researcher at
Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Her research focuses on the psychological aspects of AI ethics and
user trust in human-computer interaction. Her research has been
published at the International Conference on Information Systems and
the Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society.
Dennis Benner is a doctoral researcher at the chair of information
systems at the University of Kassel, Germany. His research focuses
on the design of conversational agents, persuasive systems, digital
services, and digital education. His research has been presented at
leading information systems conferences such as the International
Conference on Information Systems.
Mohammed Saqr received a Ph.D. degree in learning analytics
from Stockholm University. He works as a Senior Researcher
at the University of Eastern Finland, where he is working on
artificial intelligence, big data, network science, and scientometrics.
His research interests include network analysis, temporal networks,
machine learning, process, and sequence mining and temporal
processes in general. He is also an active member of several scientific
organizations and acts as an academic editor in leading academic
Andreas Janson is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of
Information Management (IWI-HSG) at the University of St. Gallen,
Switzerland. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Kassel,
Germany. His research focuses on service design, smart personal
assistants, decision-making in digital environments, and digital
learning. His research has been published in leading information
systems and management journals such as the Journal of the
Association for Information Systems, European Journal of Information
Systems, Journal of Information Technology, and Academy of
Management Learning and Education.
Jan Marco Leimeister is Full Professor and Director of the Research
Center for Information System Design (ITeG) at the University of
Kassel, Germany. He is furthermore Full Professor and Director
at the Institute of Information Management, University of St.
Gallen, Switzerland. His research covers Digital Business, Digital
Transformation, Service Engineering and Service Management,
Crowdsourcing, Digital Work, Collaboration Engineering and IT
Innovation Management. He runs research groups and projects that
are funded by the European Union, German Ministries, DFG, various
foundations or industry partners. Prof. Leimeister teaches in several
Executive Programs. He is a co-founder of several companies and
serves as board member, consultant, coach and speaker for numerous
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Information Systems Frontiers
Sofia Sch¨
obel1·Anuschka Schmitt2·Dennis Benner3·Mohammed Saqr4·Andreas Janson2·
Jan Marco Leimeister2,3
Anuschka Schmitt
Dennis Benner
Mohammed Saqr
Andreas Janson
Jan Marco Leimeister
1Information Systems, University of Osnabr¨uck,
Osnabr¨uck, Germany
2Institute of Information Management (IWI-HSG), University of
St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland
3Information Systems, Research Center for IS Design (ITeG),
University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
4School of Computing, University of Eastern Finland,
Joensuu, Finland
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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... Despite the proliferation of conversational IDAs and conflicting assessments of their distinct effects, it is puzzling to find that IS research has hitherto devoted little attention to investigating conversational IDAs (e.g., Diederich et al. 2022;Schanke et al. 2021;Schöbel et al. 2023). Considerable research has been conducted on IDA design features (e.g., strategy restrictiveness, abstractness, and modality) and their potential outcomes (e.g., cognitive effort, decision quality, and revisit intentions) (e.g., Al-Natour et al. 2021;Köhler et al. 2011;Lee and Benbasat 2011;Xiao and Benbasat 2007). ...
... Hereby, studies have usually investigated the effectiveness of design features, such as strategy restrictiveness, abstractness, and modality, and their potential outcomes, such as cognitive effort, decision quality, and revisit intentions (e.g., Köhler et al. 2011;Lee and Benbasat 2011;Xiao and Benbasat 2007). With the rise of conversational IDAs, the focus has shifted to improving the interactions or 'conversations' between the users and the conversational IDAs (e.g., Diederich et al. 2022;Schanke et al. 2021;Schöbel et al. 2023). Research on conversational IDAs has hereby particularly focused on how to elevate these conversations through design features, such as anthropomorphism (e.g., Benlian et al. 2020), embodiment (e.g., Burgoon et al. 2016), modality (e.g., Rzepka et al. 2022), and conversational skills (e.g., Schuetzler et al. 2020). ...
... To provide an overview of our paper's positioning within the IS literature, we reviewed studies in the original AIS Senior Scholars basket of Eight on IDAs, social presence, and privacy concerns, including recent literature reviews on conversational and non-conversational IDAs (e.g., Diederich et al. 2022;Li and Karahanna 2015;Schöbel et al. 2023 can envoke social presence (e.g., through an IDA's identity or anthropomorphism), but did not focus on dialogue design features (e.g., Adam et al. 2022;Qiu and Benbasat 2009). Lastly, the intersection of IDAs and privacy concerns as well as the intersection of all three fields have been treated mainly conceptually and received only scant attention, such as speculating that IDA design may shape privacy concerns (e.g., Diederich et al. 2022;Dinev et al. 2015;Zalmanson et al. 2022). ...
Full-text available
Interactive decision aids (IDAs) on websites often require users to disclose relevant information (e.g., preferences, contact information) to help users in making decisions (e.g., product choice). With technological advances in IDAs, websites increasingly switch from static, non-conversational IDAs (e.g., web forms) to conversational ones (e.g., chatbots) to boost user information disclosure that nurtures the websites' economic viability. While this novel form of IDAs is already widely employed in practice, information systems research has yet to examine the defining dialogue design features of conversational IDAs and their effects on eliciting user information. Drawing on persuasion theory and particularly on consistency and reciprocity as influence techniques, we develop a research model around two crucial dialogue design features of conversational IDAs. Specifically, we investigate the distinct and joint effects of conversational style (i.e., absence vs. presence of a conversational presentation of requests) and reciprocation triggers (i.e., absence vs. presence of reciprocity-inducing information) on user information disclosure (i.e., email addresses). By combining the complementary properties of a randomized field experiment (N = 386) and a follow-up online experiment (N = 182), we empirically provide evidence in support of the distinct and joint effects of conversational style and reciprocation triggers of IDAs on user information disclosure. Moreover, we demonstrate that these dialogue design features have indirect effects on information disclosure via perceptions of social presence and privacy concerns. Thus, our paper provides theoretical and practical insights into whether, how, and why critical IDA dialogue design features can better elicit user information for website services.
... In fact, ChatGPT itself claims that it can facilitate news writing in crisis situations (Hirsch 2023 Sirithumgul 2023). Specifically, it is said to be useful to communicate with stakeholders ) and maintain conversations (Schöbel et al. 2023). Additionally, the assistance of GenAI in text production can automate and augment human tasks that, in turn, result in cost and time savings (Deng and Lin 2023;Fayyad 2023;Kowalczyk et al. 2023;Sirithumgul 2023). ...
... Emily Bender first coined the term stochastic parrot to describe GenAI's inability to understand the meaning of text and instead compiling pure repetitions of the data that it learned: That "is a system for haphazardly stitching together sequences of linguistic forms it has observed in its vast training data, according to probabilistic information about how they combine, but without any reference to meaning" (Bender et al. 2021). This reliance on data entails, however, privacy and data security issues (Bubeck et al. 2023;Dwivedi et al. 2023;Mørch and Andersen 2023;Schöbel et al. 2023;Sirithumgul 2023;Sison et al. 2023). For instance, the new possibilities for personalized content brought by quickly generated content raises concerns regarding user profiling (Kowalczyk et al. 2023). ...
... Major limitations of GenAI further include its lack of explainability, transparency, and accountability (Dwivedi et al. 2023;Mørch and Andersen 2023;Schöbel et al. 2023;Sun et al. 2022). On the one hand, GenAI is largely considered a black-box due to its sheer complexity (Dwivedi et al. 2023). ...