In one particularly striking example of how this rather limited bot has made a major impact, U-Report sent a poll to users in Liberia about whether teachers were coercing students into sex in exchange for better grades. Approximately 86% of the 13,000 Liberian children U-Report polled responded that their teachers were engaged in this despicable practice, which resulted in a collaborative project between UNICEF and Liberia’s Minister of Education to put an end to it.


Despite the fact that ALICE relies on such an old codebase, the bot offers users a remarkably accurate conversational experience. Of course, no bot is perfect, especially one that’s old enough to legally drink in the U.S. if only it had a physical form. ALICE, like many contemporary bots, struggles with the nuances of some questions and returns a mixture of inadvertently postmodern answers and statements that suggest ALICE has greater self-awareness for which we might give the agent credit.
Perhaps the most important aspect of implementing a chatbot is selecting the right natural language processing (NLP) engine. If the user interacts with the bot through voice, for example, then the chatbot requires a speech recognition engine. Business owners also have to decide whether they want structured or unstructured conversations. Chatbots built for structured conversations are highly scripted, which simplifies programming but restricts the kinds of things that the users can ask.
Think about the possibilities: all developers regardless of expertise in data science able to build conversational AI that can enrich and expand the reach of applications to audiences across a myriad of conversational channels. The app will be able to understand natural language, reason about content and take intelligent actions. Bringing intelligent agents to developers and organizations that do not have expertise in data science is disruptive to the way humans interact with computers in their daily life and the way enterprises run their businesses with their customers and employees.

At this year’s I/O, Google announced its own Facebook Messenger competitor called Allo. Apart from some neat features around privacy and self-expression, the really interesting part of Allo is @google, the app’s AI digital assistant. Google’s assistant is interesting because the company has about a decades-long head start in machine learning applied to search, so its likely that Allo’s chatbot will be very useful. In fact, you could see Allo becoming the primary interface for interacting with Google search over time. This interaction model would more closely resemble Larry Page’s long-term vision for search, which goes far beyond the clumsy search query + results page model of today:
Specialized conversational bots can be used to make professional tasks easier. For example, a conversational bot could be used to retrieve information faster compared to a manual lookup; simply ask, “What was the patient’s blood pressure in her May visit?” The conversational bot will answer instantly instead of the user perusing through manual or electronic records.
“There is hope that consumers will be keen on experimenting with bots to make things happen for them. It used to be like that in the mobile app world 4+ years ago. When somebody told you back then… ‘I have built an app for X’… You most likely would give it a try. Now, nobody does this. It is probably too late to build an app company as an indie developer. But with bots… consumers’ attention spans are hopefully going to be wide open/receptive again!” — Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst
Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.
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