What if you’re creating a bot for a major online clothing retailer? For starters, the bot will require a greeting (“How can I help you?”) as well as a process for saying its goodbyes. In between, the bot needs to respond to inputs, which could range from shopping inquiries to questions about shipping rates or return policies, and the bot must possess a script for fielding questions it doesn’t understand.
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.
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These days, checking the headlines over morning coffee is as much about figuring out if we should be hunkering down in the basement preparing for imminent nuclear annihilation as it is about keeping up with the day’s headlines. Unfortunately, even the most diligent newshounds may find it difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise, which is why NBC launched its NBC Politics Bot on Facebook Messenger shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
This importance is reinforced by Jacqueline Payne, Customer Support Manager at Paperclip Digital, who says ‘Customer service isn’t a buzzword. But too many businesses treat it like it is. As a viable avenue from which to lower customer acquisition costs and cultivate a loyal customer base, chat bots can play a pivotal role in driving business growth.’
Once the chatbot is ready and is live interacting with customers, smart feedback loops can be implemented. During the conversation when customers ask a question, chatbot smartly give them a couple of answers by providing different options like “Did you mean a,b or c”. That way customers themselves matches the questions with actual possible intents and that information can be used to retrain the machine learning model, hence improving the chatbot’s accuracy.
Shane Mac, CEO of San Francisco-based Assist,warned from challenges businesses face when trying to implement chatbots into their support teams: “Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard.

This machine learning algorithm, known as neural networks, consists of different layers for analyzing and learning data. Inspired by the human brain, each layer is consists of its own artificial neurons that are interconnected and responsive to one another. Each connection is weighted by previous learning patterns or events and with each input of data, more "learning" takes place.


Another option is to integrate your own custom AI service. This approach is more complex, but gives you complete flexibility in terms of the machine learning algorithm, training, and model. For example, you could implement your own topic modeling and use algorithm such as LDA to find similar or relevant documents. A good approach is to expose your custom AI solution as a web service endpoint, and call the endpoint from the core bot logic. The web service could be hosted in App Service or in a cluster of VMs. Azure Machine Learning provides a number of services and libraries to assist you in training and deploying your models.
Of course, each messaging app has its own fine print for bots. For example, on Messenger a brand can send a message only if the user prompted the conversation, and if the user doesn't find value and opt to receive future notifications within those first 24 hours, there's no future communication. But to be honest, that's not enough to eradicate the threat of bad bots.

Earlier, I made a rather lazy joke with a reference to the Terminator movie franchise, in which an artificial intelligence system known as Skynet becomes self-aware and identifies the human race as the greatest threat to its own survival, triggering a global nuclear war by preemptively launching the missiles under its command at cities around the world. (If by some miracle you haven’t seen any of the Terminator movies, the first two are excellent but I’d strongly advise steering clear of later entries in the franchise.)
Reports of political interferences in recent elections, including the 2016 US and 2017 UK general elections,[3] have set the notion of botting being more prevalent because of the ethics that is challenged between the bot’s design and the bot’s designer. According to Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist from the University of Southern California reporting on Communications of the ACM,[4] the lack of resources available to implement fact-checking and information verification results in the large volumes of false reports and claims made on these bots in social media platforms. In the case of Twitter, most of these bots are programmed with searching filter capabilities that target key words and phrases that reflect in favor and against political agendas and retweet them. While the attention of bots is programmed to spread unverified information throughout the social media platform,[5] it is a challenge that programmers face in the wake of a hostile political climate. Binary functions are designated to the programs and using an Application Program interface embedded in the social media website executes the functions tasked. The Bot Effect is what Ferrera reports as when the socialization of bots and human users creates a vulnerability to the leaking of personal information and polarizing influences outside the ethics of the bot’s code. According to Guillory Kramer in his study, he observes the behavior of emotionally volatile users and the impact the bots have on the users, altering the perception of reality.
Google, the company with perhaps the greatest artificial intelligence chops and the biggest collection of data about you — both of which power effective bots — has been behind here. But it is almost certainly plotting ways to catch up. Google Now, its personal assistant system built within Android, serves many functions of the new wave of bots, but has had hiccups. The company is reportedly working on a chatbot that will live in a mobile messaging product and is experimenting with ways to integrate Now deeper with search.
Since Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, Slack, and a growing number of bot-creation platforms came online, developers have been churning out chatbots across industries, with Facebook’s most recent bot count at over 33,000. At a CRM technologies conference in 2011, Gartner predicted that 85 percent of customer engagement would be fielded without human intervention. Though a seeming natural fit for retail and purchasing-related decisions, it doesn’t appear that chatbot technology will play favorites in the coming few years, with uses cases being promoted in finance, human resources, and even legal services.

All of these conversational technologies employ natural-language-recognition capabilities to discern what the user is saying, and other sophisticated intelligence tools to determine what he or she truly needs to know. These technologies are beginning to use machine learning to learn from interactions and improve the resulting recommendations and responses.
NBC Politics Bot allowed users to engage with the conversational agent via Facebook to identify breaking news topics that would be of interest to the network’s various audience demographics. After beginning the initial interaction, the bot provided users with customized news results (prioritizing video content, a move that undoubtedly made Facebook happy) based on their preferences.
Users want to ask questions in their own language, and have bots help them. A statement that sounds as straight-forward as “My login isn’t working! I haven’t been able to log into your on-line billing system” might sound straight forward to us, but to a bot, there’s a lot it needs to understand. Watson Conversation Services has learned from Wikipedia, and along with its deep learning techniques, it’s able to work out what the user is asking.
Die Herausforderung bei der Programmierung eines Chatbots liegt in der sinnvollen Zusammenstellung der Erkennungen. Präzise Erkennungen für spezielle Fragen werden dabei ergänzt durch globale Erkennungen, die sich nur auf ein Wort beziehen und als Fallback dienen können (der Bot erkennt grob das Thema, aber nicht die genaue Frage). Manche Chatbot-Programme unterstützen die Entwicklung dabei über Priorisierungsränge, die einzelnen Antworten zuzuordnen sind. Zur Programmierung eines Chatbots werden meist Entwicklungsumgebungen verwendet, die es erlauben, Fragen zu kategorisieren, Antworten zu priorisieren und Erkennungen zu verwalten[5][6]. Dabei lassen manche auch die Gestaltung eines Gesprächskontexts zu, der auf Erkennungen und möglichen Folgeerkennungen basiert („Möchten Sie mehr darüber erfahren?“). Ist die Wissensbasis aufgebaut, wird der Bot in möglichst vielen Trainingsgesprächen mit Nutzern der Zielgruppe optimiert[7]. Fehlerhafte Erkennungen, Erkennungslücken und fehlende Antworten lassen sich so erkennen[8]. Meist bietet die Entwicklungsumgebung Analysewerkzeuge, um die Gesprächsprotokolle effizient auswerten zu können[9]. Ein guter Chatbot erreicht auf diese Weise eine mittlere Erkennungsrate von mehr als 70 % der Fragen. Er wird damit von den meisten Nutzern als unterhaltsamer Gegenpart akzeptiert.
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics. 

“We believe that you don’t need to know how to program to build a bot, that’s what inspired us at Chatfuel a year ago when we started bot builder. We noticed bots becoming hyper-local, i.e. a bot for a soccer team to keep in touch with fans or a small art community bot. Bots are efficient and when you let anyone create them easily magic happens.” — Dmitrii Dumik, Founder of Chatfuel

As I tinker with dialog systems at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, primarily by prototyping Alexa skills, I often wonder what AI is still lacking to build good conversational systems, punting the social challenge to another day. This post is my take on where AI has a good chance to improve and consequently, what we can expect from the next wave of conversational systems.


In our work at ZipfWorks building and scaling intelligent shopping platforms and applications, we pay close attention to emerging trends impacting digital commerce such as chatbots and mobile commerce. As this nascent trend towards a more conversational commerce ecosystem unfolds at a dizzying pace, we felt it would be useful to take a step back and look at the major initiatives and forces shaping this trend and compiled them here in this report. We’ve applied some of these concepts in our current project Dealspotr, to help more shoppers save more money through intelligent use of technology and social product design.
For designing a chatbot conversation, you can refer this blog — “How to design a conversation for chatbots.” Chatbot interactions are segmented into structured and unstructured interactions. As the name suggests, the structured type is more about the logical flow of information, including menus, choices, and forms into account. The unstructured conversation flow includes freestyle plain text. Conversations with family, colleagues, friends and other acquaintances fall into this segment. Developing scripts for these messages will follow suit. While developing the script for messages, it is important to keep the conversation topics close to the purpose served by the chatbot. For the designer, interpreting user answers is important to develop scripts for a conversational user interface. The designer also turns their attention to close-ended conversations that are easy to handle and open-ended conversations that allow customers to communicate naturally.
Using this method, you can manage multiple funnels of content upgrades, and even convince your users to take the next step in the buyer journey directly within Messenger. In the example below I just direct the user to subscribe to content recommendations via Messenger, but you could push them to book a meeting with a sales rep, take a free trial or directly purchase your product.
In a bot, everything begins with the root dialog. The root dialog invokes the new order dialog. At that point, the new order dialog takes control of the conversation and remains in control until it either closes or invokes other dialogs, such as the product search dialog. If the new order dialog closes, control of the conversation is returned back to the root dialog.
WeChat combines a chat-based interface with vast library of add-on features such as a mobile wallet, chat-based transactions, and chat-based media and interactive widgets, and exposes it all to businesses through a powerful API that enables businesses from mom and pop noodle shops to powerhouses such as Nike and Burberry to “friend” their customers and market to them in never before imaginable ways. Over 10MM businesses in China have WeChat accounts, and it is becoming increasingly popular for small businesses to only have a WeChat account, forgoing developing their own website or mobile app completely. US technology firms, in particular Facebook, are taking note.
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics. 
The biggest benefit of having a conversational AI solution is the instant response rate. Answering queries within an hour translates into 7X increase in the likelihood of converting a lead. Customers are more likely to talk about a negative experience than a positive one. So nipping a negative review right in the bud is going to help improve your product’s brand standing.
ETL. The bot relies on information and knowledge extracted from the raw data by an ETL process in the backend. This data might be structured (SQL database), semi-structured (CRM system, FAQs), or unstructured (Word documents, PDFs, web logs). An ETL subsystem extracts the data on a fixed schedule. The content is transformed and enriched, then loaded into an intermediary data store, such as Cosmos DB or Azure Blob Storage.
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This kind of thinking has lead me to develop a bot where the focus is as a medium for content rather than a subsitute for intelligence. So users create content much as conventional author, (but with text stored in spreadsheets rather than anywhere else). Very little is expected from the bot in terms of human behavious such as “learning”, “empathy”, “memory” and character”. Does it work?
Most chatbots try to mimic human interactions, which can frustrate users when a misunderstanding arises. Watson Assistant is more. It knows when to search for an answer from a knowledge base, when to ask for clarity, and when to direct you to a human. Watson Assistant can run on any cloud – allowing businesses to bring AI to their data and apps wherever they are.
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics. 

ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".


Endurance is a companion chatbot that uses neurolinguistics programming (better known as NLP) to have friendly conversations with suspected patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It uses AI technology to maintain a lucid conversation while simultaneously testing the human user’s ability to remember information in different ways. The chatbot encourages the user to talk about their favorite activities, memories, music, etc. This doesn’t just test the person’s memory but actively promotes their ability to recall.

According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, "Chatbots are [...] increasingly used in particular for mental health applications, prevention and behavior change applications (such as smoking cessation or physical activity interventions).".[48] They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety.[49] A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.[50]
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