In the TechCrunch ghetto (the "Demo Pit," where those that didn't make the cut gather onstage), there are several interesting companies showing off their products. We'll be covering a few of them over the course of this conference.
One of these companies is Virsona. It makes "virtual personas" for chat. The idea is that you feed it the written works and online resources of a particular persona, and then its chatbot will respond with the appropriate facts and personality.
The demo I saw was limited (Abraham Lincoln), but the model is good. The revenue model is aimed at getting consumers to interact with branded personas: the Geico gecko, for example. Prolific bloggers might also benefit from a personality surrogate. The more words the bot has to work with, presumably, the more lifelike the persona can be. The company will also offer analytics to its customers.
I talked a bit with CEO Peter Hodge about his company and what makes it different from the Eliza-like bots we're familiar with. Hodge said that due to ongoing advancements in natural language processing, theory, and computing power, much richer bots are possible than were before.