This is great for the consumer because they don't need to leave the environment of Facebook to get access to the content they want, and it's hugely beneficial to Politico, as they're able to push on-demand content through to an increasingly engaged audience - oh, and they can also learn a bunch of interesting things about their audience in the process (I'll get to this shortly).
“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
Keep it conversational: Chatbots help make it easy for users to find the information they need. Users can ask questions in a conversational way, and the chatbots can help them refine their searches through their responses and follow-up questions. Having had substantial experience with personal assistants on their smartphones and elsewhere, users today expect this level of informal interaction. When chatbot users are happy, the organizations employing the chatbots benefit.
The chatbot uses keywords that users type in the chat line and guesses what they may be looking for. For example, if you own a restaurant that has vegan options on the menu, you might program the word “vegan” into the bot. Then when users type in that word, the return message will include vegan options from the menu or point out the menu section that features these dishes.
Simple chatbots, or bots, are easy to build. In fact, many coders have automated bot-building processes and templates. The majority of these processes follow simple code formulas that the designer plans, and the bots provide the responses coded into it—and only those responses. Simplistic bots (built in five minutes or less) typically respond to one or two very specific commands.
Improve loyalty: By providing a responsive, efficient experience for customers, employees and partners, a chatbot will improve satisfaction and loyalty. Whether your chatbot answers questions about employees’ corporate benefits or provides answers to technical support questions, users can come away with a strengthened connection to your organization.
Back to our earlier example, if a bot doesn’t know the word trousers and a user corrects the input to pants, the bot will remember the connection between those two words in the future. The more words and connections that a bot is exposed to, the smarter it gets. This process is similar to that of human learning. Our capacity for memory and synthesis is part of what makes us unique, and we’re teaching our best tricks to bots.
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.
Your bot can use other AI services to further enrich the user experience. The Cognitive Services suite of pre-built AI services (which includes LUIS and QnA Maker) has services for vision, speech, language, search, and location. You can quickly add functionality such as language translation, spell checking, sentiment analysis, OCR, location awareness, and content moderation. These services can be wired up as middleware modules in your bot to interact more naturally and intelligently with the user.
Companies most likely to be supporting bots operate in the health, communications and banking industries, with informational bots garnering the majority of attention. However, challenges still abound, even among bot supporters, with lack of skilled talent to develop and work with bots cited as a challenge in implementing solutions, followed by deployment and acquisition costs, as well as data privacy and security.
There are various search engines for bots, such as Chatbottle, Botlist and Thereisabotforthat, for example, helping developers to inform users about the launch of new talkbots. These sites also provide a ranking of bots by various parameters: the number of votes, user statistics, platforms, categories (travel, productivity, social interaction, e-commerce, entertainment, news, etc.). They feature more than three and a half thousand bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and Kik.
“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
What does the Echo have to do with conversational commerce? While the most common use of the device include playing music, making informational queries, and controlling home devices, Alexa (the device’s default addressable name) can also tap into Amazon’s full product catalog as well as your order history and intelligently carry out commands to buy stuff. You can re-order commonly ordered items, or even have Alexa walk you through some options in purchasing something you’ve never ordered before.
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.)
Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations says: “I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t think we’re going to see this mass exodus of people stopping building apps and going to build bots. I think they’re going to build bots in addition to the app that they have or the service they provide,” as reported by re/code.
The most advanced bots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It's as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
This is where most applications of NLP struggle, and not just chatbots. Any system or application that relies upon a machine’s ability to parse human speech is likely to struggle with the complexities inherent in elements of speech such as metaphors and similes. Despite these considerable limitations, chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, responsive, and more “natural.”
One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. uses a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.