For as long as I can remember, email has been a fundamentally important channel for a large majority of businesses. The ability to market products directly through a channel that scales up to an incredibly high ceiling is very attractive. The only problem is that it's costing more and more money to acquire email addresses from potential customers, and the engagement from email is getting worse and worse.
“Today, chat isn’t yet being perceived as an engagement driver, but more of a customer service operation[…]” Horwitz writes for Chatbots Magazine. “Brands and marketers can start collecting data around the engagement and interaction of end users. Those that are successful could see higher brand recognition, turning user-level mobile moments into huge returns.”
The promise of artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated across the enterprise giving hopes of amping up automation, enriching insights, streamlining processes, augmenting workers, and in many ways making our lives as consumers, employees, and customers a whole lot better. Senior management salivates over the exponential gains AI is supposed to deliver to their business. Kumbayah […]
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[In] artificial intelligence ... machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained ... its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures ... The observer says to himself "I could have written that". With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked "intelligent", to that reserved for curios ... The object of this paper is to cause just such a re-evaluation of the program about to be "explained". Few programs ever needed it more.
There was a time when even some of the most prominent minds believed that a machine could not be as intelligent as humans but in 1991, the start of the Loebner Prize competitions began to prove otherwise. The competition awards the best performing chatbot that convinces the judges that it is some form of intelligence. But despite the tremendous development of chatbots and their ability to execute intelligent behavior not displayed by humans, chatbots still do not have the accuracy to understand the context of questions in every situation each time.
The progressive advance of technology has seen an increase in businesses moving from traditional to digital platforms to transact with consumers. Convenience through technology is being carried out by businesses by implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques on their digital platforms. One AI technique that is growing in its application and use is chatbots. Some examples of chatbot technology are virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, and messaging apps, such as WeChat and Facebook messenger.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots that it launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers, through which it can actively manage bot interactions.
Chatbots currently operate through a number of channels, including web, within apps, and on messaging platforms. They also work across the spectrum from digital commerce to banking using bots for research, lead generation, and brand awareness. An increasing amount of businesses are experimenting with chatbots for e-commerce, customer service, and content delivery.
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.
Need a Facebook bot? Well, look no further, as Chatfuel makes it easy for you to create your own Facebook and Telegram Chatbot without any coding experience necessary. It works by letting users link to external sources through plugins. Eventually, the platforms hope to open itself to third-party plugins, so anyone can contribute their own plugins and have others benefit from them.
Not integrated. This goes hand-in-hand with the contextual knowledge, but chatbots often suffer from “death by data silo” where their access to data is limited. If a chatbot is “chatting with” a customer, they not only need to access the contextual data of their customer but also have access to every place where the answer to the customer’s question may reside. Product documentation site, customer community, different websites are all places where that answer can be.
Another benefit is that your chatbot can store information on the types of questions it’s being asked. Not only does this make the chatbot better equipped to answer future questions and upsell additional products, it gives you a better understanding of what your customers need to know to close the deal. With this information, you’ll be better equipped to market more effectively to your customers in the future.
If a text-sending algorithm can pass itself off as a human instead of a chatbot, its message would be more credible. Therefore, human-seeming chatbots with well-crafted online identities could start scattering fake news that seem plausible, for instance making false claims during a presidential election. With enough chatbots, it might be even possible to achieve artificial social proof.[58][59]
In sales, chatbots are being used to assist consumers shopping online, either by answering noncomplex product questions or providing helpful information that the consumer could later search for, including shipping price and availability. Chatbots are also used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. Once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, it will be transferred to a human service agent .

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.

If you ask any marketing expert, customer engagement is simply about talking to the customer and reeling them in when the time’s right. This means being there for the user whenever they look for you throughout their lifecycle and therein lies the trick: How can you be sure you’re there at all times and especially when it matters most to the customer?
For example, say you want to purchase a pair of shoes online from Nordstrom. You would have to browse their site and look around until you find the pair you wanted. Then you would add the pair to your cart to go through the motions of checking out. But in the case Nordstrom had a conversational bot, you would simply tell the bot what you’re looking for and get an instant answer. You would be able to search within an interface that actually learns what you like, even when you can’t coherently articulate it. And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll even have similar experiences when we visit the retail stores.
A rapidly growing, benign, form of internet bot is the chatbot. From 2016, when Facebook Messenger allowed developers to place chatbots on their platform, there has been an exponential growth of their use on that forum alone. 30,000 bots were created for Messenger in the first six months, rising to 100,000 by September 2017.[8] Avi Ben Ezra, CTO of SnatchBot, told Forbes that evidence from the use of their chatbot building platform pointed to a near future saving of millions of hours of human labour as 'live chat' on websites was replaced with bots.[9]
Artificial neural networks, invented in the 1940’s, are a way of calculating an output from an input (a classification) using weighted connections (“synapses”) that are calculated from repeated iterations through training data. Each pass through the training data alters the weights such that the neural network produces the output with greater “accuracy” (lower error rate).
To envision the future of chatbots/virtual assistants, we need to take a quick trip down memory lane. Remember Clippy? Love him or hate him, he’s ingrained in our memory as the little assistant who couldn’t (sorry, Clippy.).  But someday, this paper clip could be the chosen one. Imagine with me if you will a support agent speaking with a customer over the phone, or even chat support. Clippy could be listening in, reviewing the questions the customer is posing, and proactively providing relevant content to the support agent. Instead of digging around from system to system, good ‘ole Clippy would have their back, saving them the trouble of hunting down relevant information needed for the task at hand.
It may be tempting to assume that users will perform procedural tasks one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, in a procedural conversation flow using dialogs, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
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.
Unfortunately, my mom can’t really engage in meaningful conversations anymore, but many people suffering with dementia retain much of their conversational abilities as their illness progresses. However, the shame and frustration that many dementia sufferers experience often make routine, everyday talks with even close family members challenging. That’s why Russian technology company Endurance developed its companion chatbot.
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.

Rather than having the campaign speak for Einstein, we wanted Einstein to speak for himself, Layne Harris, 360i’s VP, Head of Innovation Technology, said to GeoMarketing. "We decided to pursue a conversational chatbot that would feel natural and speak as Einstein would. This provides a more intimate and immersive experience for users to really connect with him one on one and organically discover more content from the show."
However, since Magic simply connects you with human operators who carry our your requests, the service does not leverage AI to automate its processes, and thus the service is expensive and thus may lack mainstream potential. The company recently launched a premium service called Magic+ which gets you higher level service for $100 per hour, indicating that it sees its market among business executives and other wealthy customers.
Once your bot is running in production, you will need a DevOps team to keep it that way. Continually monitor the system to ensure the bot operates at peak performance. Use the logs sent to Application Insights or Cosmos DB to create monitoring dashboards, either using Application Insights itself, Power BI, or a custom web app dashboard. Send alerts to the DevOps team if critical errors occur or performance falls below an acceptable threshold.
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.
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.
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.

When we open our news feed and find out about yet another AI breakthrough—IBM Watson, driverless cars, AlphaGo — the notion of TODA may feel decidedly anti-climatic. The reality is that the current AI is not quite 100% turnkey-ready for TODA. This will soon change due to two key factors: 1) businesses want it, and 2) businesses have abundant data, the fuel that the current state-of-the-art machine learning techniques need to make AI work.
Having a conversation with a computer might have seemed like science fiction even a few years ago. But now, most of us already use chatbots for a variety of tasks. For example, as end users, we ask the virtual assistant on our smartphones to find a local restaurant and provide directions. Or, we use an online banking chatbot for help with a loan application.

Before you even write a single line of code, it's important to write a functional specification so the development team has a clear idea of what the bot is expected to do. The specification should include a reasonably comprehensive list of user inputs and expected bot responses in various knowledge domains. This living document will be an invaluable guide for developing and testing your bot.
An ecommerce website’s user interface is an important part of the overall application. It has amazing product pictures for shoppers to look at. It has an advanced search tool to help the shopper locate products. It has lovely buttons users can click to add products to the shopping cart. And it has forms for entering payment information or an address.
However, the revelations didn’t stop there. The researchers also learned that the bots had become remarkably sophisticated negotiators in a short period of time, with one bot even attempting to mislead a researcher by demonstrating interest in a particular item so it could gain crucial negotiating leverage at a later stage by willingly “sacrificing” the item in which it had feigned interest, indicating a remarkable level of premeditation and strategic “thinking.”
2. Flow-based: these work on user interaction with buttons and text. If you have used Matthew’s chatbot, that is a flow-based chatbot. The chatbot asks a question then offers options in the form of buttons (Matthew’s has a yes/no option). These are more limited, but you get the possibility of really driving down the conversation and making sure your users don’t stray off the path.
On the other hand, early adoption can be somewhat of a curse. In 2011, many companies and individuals, myself included, invested a lot of time and money into Google+, dubbed to be bigger than Facebook at the time. They acquired over 10 million new users within the first two weeks of launch and things were looking positive. Many companies doubled-down on growing a community within the platform, hopeful of using it as a new and growing acquisition channel, but things didn't exactly pan out that way.
The sentiment analysis in machine learning uses language analytics to determine the attitude or emotional state of whom they are speaking to in any given situation. This has proven to be difficult for even the most advanced chatbot due to an inability to detect certain questions and comments from context. Developers are creating these bots to automate a wider range of processes in an increasingly human-like way and to continue to develop and learn over time.

In our research, we collaborate with a strong network of national and international partners from academia and industry. We aim to bring together different people with different skill sets and expertise to engage in innovative research projects and to strengthen the exchange between research and practice. Our partnerships can take various forms, including project-based collaboration, research scholarships, and publicly funded projects.

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.
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