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.
Since Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, Slack, and a growing number of bot-creation platforms came online, developers have been churning out chatbots across industries, with Facebook’s most recent bot count at over 33,000. At a CRM technologies conference in 2011, Gartner predicted that 85 percent of customer engagement would be fielded without human intervention. Though a seeming natural fit for retail and purchasing-related decisions, it doesn’t appear that chatbot technology will play favorites in the coming few years, with uses cases being promoted in finance, human resources, and even legal services.
Forrester just released a new report on mobile and new technology priorities for marketers, based on our latest global mobile executive survey. We found out that marketers: Fail to deliver on foundational mobile experiences. Consumers’ expectations of a brand’s mobile experience have never been higher. And yet, 58% of marketers agree that their mobile services […]
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."
Typically, companies applied a passive engagement method with consumers. In other words, customer support only responds to complaining consumers – but never initiate any conversations or look for feedback. While this method was fine for a long while, it doesn’t work anymore with millennials. Users want to communicate with attentive brands who have a 24/7 support system and they won’t settle for anything less.
Say you want to build a bot that tells the current temperature. The dialog for the bot only needs coding to recognize and report the requested location and temperature. To do this, the bot needs to pull data from the API of the local weather service, based on the user’s location, and to send that data back to the user—basically, a few lines of templatable code and you’re done.
If you visit a Singapore government website in the near future, chances are you’ll be using a chatbot to access the services you need, as part of the country’s Smart Nation initiative. In Australia, Deakin University students now access campus services using its ‘Genie’ virtual assistant platform, made up of chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition and predictive analytics.
For every question or instruction input to the conversational bot, there must exist a specific pattern in the database to provide a suitable response. Where there are several combinations of patterns available, and a hierarchical pattern is created. In these cases, algorithms are used to reduce the classifiers and generate a structure that is more manageable. This is the “reductionist” approach—or, in other words, to have a simplified solution, it reduces the problem.
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
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.”
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
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.