Simply put, chatbots are computer programs designed to have conversations with human users. Chances are you’ve interacted with one. They answer questions, guide you through a purchase, provide technical support, and can even teach you a new language. You can find them on devices, websites, text messages, and messaging apps—in other words, they’re everywhere.
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.
The chatbot must rely on spoken or written communications to discover what the shopper or user wants and is limited to the messaging platform’s capabilities when it comes to responding to the shopper or user. This requires a much better understanding of natural language and intent. It also means that developers must write connections to several different platforms, again like Messenger or Slack, if the chatbot is to have the same potential reach as a website.
3. Now, since ours is a conversational AI bot, we need to keep track of the conversations happened thus far, to predict an appropriate response. For this purpose, we need a dictionary object that can be persisted with information about the current intent, current entities, persisted information that user would have provided to bot’s previous questions, bot’s previous action, results of the API call (if any). This information will constitute our input X, the feature vector. The target y, that the dialogue model is going to be trained upon will be ‘next_action’ (The next_action can simply be a one-hot encoded vector corresponding to each actions that we define in our training data).
Polly may be a business-focused application, but the chatbot is designed to improve workplace happiness. Using surveys and feedback, managers can keep track of how effectively their teams are working and address problems before they escalate. This doesn’t only mean organizations will run more productively, but that workers will be happier in their jobs.
“I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that,” said Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations. “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.”
It’s best to have very specific intents, so that you’re clear what your user wants to do, but to have broad entities – so that the intent can apply in many places. For example, changing a password is a common activity (a narrow intent), where you change your password might be many different places (broad entities). The context then personalises the conversation based on what it knows about the user, what they’re trying to achieve, and where they’re trying to do that.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app.
The process of building a chatbot can be divided into two main tasks: understanding the user's intent and producing the correct answer. The first task involves understanding the user input. In order to properly understand a user input in a free text form, a Natural Language Processing Engine can be used. The second task may involve different approaches depending on the type of the response that the chatbot will generate.
Artificial Intelligence is currently being deployed in customer service to both augment and replace human agents - with the primary goals of improving the customer experience and reducing human customer service costs. While the technology is not yet able to perform all the tasks a human customer service representative could, many consumer requests are very simple ask that sometimes be handled by current AI technologies without human input.
For example, ecommerce companies will likely want a chatbot that can display products, handle shipping questions, but a healthcare chatbot would look very different. Also, while most chatbot software is continually upping the AI-ante, a company called Landbot is taking a different approach, stripping away the complexity to help create better customer conversations.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.