As ChatbotLifeexplained, developing bots is not the same as building apps. While apps specialise in a number of functions, chatbots have a bigger capacity for inputs. The trick here is to start with a simple objective and focus on doing it really well (i.e., having a minimum viable product or ‘MVP’). From that point onward, businesses can upgrade their bots.
Next, identify the data sources that will enable the bot to interact intelligently with users. As mentioned earlier, these data sources could contain structured, semi-structured, or unstructured data sets. When you're getting started, a good approach is to make a one-off copy of the data to a central store, such as Cosmos DB or Azure Storage. As you progress, you should create an automated data ingestion pipeline to keep this data current. Options for an automated ingestion pipeline include Data Factory, Functions, and Logic Apps. Depending on the data stores and the schemas, you might use a combination of these approaches.
“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
Niki is a personal assistant that has been developed in India to perform an impressively wide variety of tasks, including booking taxis, buses, hotels, movies and events, paying utilities and recharging your phone, and even organizing laundry pickup and delivery. The application has proven to be a huge success across India and won the Deep Tech prize at the 2017 AWS Mobility Awards.
The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).
Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN. While the bot revolution is still in the early phase, many believe 2016 will be the year these conversational interactions take off.
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.’
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.
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.
“They’re doing things we’re simply not doing in the U.S. Imagine if you were going to start a city from scratch. Rather than having to deal with all the infrastructure created 200 years ago, you could hit the ground running on the latest technology. That’s what China’s doing — they’re accessing markets for the first time through mobile apps and payments.” — Brian Buchwald, CEO of consumer intelligence firm Bomoda
Chatfuel is a platform that lets you build your own Chatbot for Messenger (and Telegram) for free. The only limit is if you pass more than 100,000 conversations per month, but for most businesses that won't be an issue. No understanding of code is required and it has a simple drag-and-drop interface. Think Wix/Squarespace for bots (side note: I have zero affiliation with Chatfuel).