Customer service departments in all industries are increasing their use of chatbots, and we will see usage rise even higher in the next year as companies continue to pilot or launch their own versions of the rule-based digital assistant. What are chatbots? Forrester defines them as autonomous applications that help users complete tasks through conversation.   […]

2a : a computer program that performs automatic repetitive tasks : agent sense 5 Several shopping "bots" will track down prices for on-line merchandise from a variety of vendors.— Sam Vincent Meddis especially : one designed to perform a malicious action These bot programs churn away all day and night, prodding at millions of random IP addresses looking for holes to crawl through. — Jennifer Tanaka
According to this study by Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, “the real buzz about this technology did not start before the spring of 2016. Two reasons for the sudden and renewed interest in chatbots were [number one] massive advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and a major usage shift from online social networksto mobile messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Slack, Kik, and Viber.”
The bot (which also offers users the opportunity to chat with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman) isn’t a true conversational agent, in the sense that the bot’s responses are currently a little limited; this isn’t a truly “freestyle” chatbot. For example, in the conversation above, the bot didn’t recognize the reply as a valid response – kind of a bummer if you’re hoping for an immersive experience.
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.
This is a lot less complicated than it appears. Given a set of sentences, each belonging to a class, and a new input sentence, we can count the occurrence of each word in each class, account for its commonality and assign each class a score. Factoring for commonality is important: matching the word “it” is considerably less meaningful than a match for the word “cheese”. The class with the highest score is the one most likely to belong to the input sentence. This is a slight oversimplification as words need to be reduced to their stems, but you get the basic idea.

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.
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).

Oh and by the way: We’ve been hard at work on some interesting projects at Coveo, one of those focusing squarely on the world of chatbots. We’ve leveraged our insight engine, and enabled it to work within the confines of your preferred chat tool: the power of Coveo, in chatbot form. The best part about our work in the field of chatbots? The code is out there in the wild waiting for you to utilize it, providing that you are already a customer or partner of Coveo. All you need to do is jump over to the Coveo Labs github page, download it, and get your hands dirty!
Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.
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