As artificial intelligence continues to evolve (it’s predicted that AI could double economic growth rates by 2035), conversational bots are becoming a powerful tool for businesses worldwide. By 2020, it’s predicted that 85% of customers’ relationship with businesses will be handled without engaging a human at all. Businesses are even abandoning their mobile apps to adopt conversational bots.
A chatbot works in a couple of ways: set guidelines and machine learning. A chatbot that functions with a set of guidelines in place is limited in its conversation. It can only respond to a set number of requests and vocabulary, and is only as intelligent as its programming code. An example of a limited bot is an automated banking bot that asks the caller some questions to understand what the caller wants done. The bot would make a command like “Please tell me what I can do for you by saying account balances, account transfer, or bill payment.” If the customer responds with "credit card balance," the bot would not understand the request and would proceed to either repeat the command or transfer the caller to a human assistant.
Your bot can use other AI services to further enrich the user experience. The Cognitive Services suite of pre-built AI services (which includes LUIS and QnA Maker) has services for vision, speech, language, search, and location. You can quickly add functionality such as language translation, spell checking, sentiment analysis, OCR, location awareness, and content moderation. These services can be wired up as middleware modules in your bot to interact more naturally and intelligently with the user.
Conversational bots work in a similar way as an employee manning a customer care desk. When a customer asks for assistance, the conversational bot is the medium responding. If a customer asks the question, “What time does your store close on Friday?” the conversational bot would respond the same as a human would, based on the information available. “Our store closes at 5pm on Friday.”
Reports of political interferences in recent elections, including the 2016 US and 2017 UK general elections, have set the notion of botting being more prevalent because of the ethics that is challenged between the bot’s design and the bot’s designer. According to Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist from the University of Southern California reporting on Communications of the ACM, the lack of resources available to implement fact-checking and information verification results in the large volumes of false reports and claims made on these bots in social media platforms. In the case of Twitter, most of these bots are programmed with searching filter capabilities that target key words and phrases that reflect in favor and against political agendas and retweet them. While the attention of bots is programmed to spread unverified information throughout the social media platform, it is a challenge that programmers face in the wake of a hostile political climate. Binary functions are designated to the programs and using an Application Program interface embedded in the social media website executes the functions tasked. The Bot Effect is what Ferrera reports as when the socialization of bots and human users creates a vulnerability to the leaking of personal information and polarizing influences outside the ethics of the bot’s code. According to Guillory Kramer in his study, he observes the behavior of emotionally volatile users and the impact the bots have on the users, altering the perception of reality.
Some bots communicate with other users of Internet-based services, via instant messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or another web interface such as Facebook Bots and Twitterbots. These chatterbots may allow people to ask questions in plain English and then formulate a proper response. These bots can often handle many tasks, including reporting weather, zip-code information, sports scores, converting currency or other units, etc. Others are used for entertainment, such as SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger.
Back to our earlier example, if a bot doesn’t know the word trousers and a user corrects the input to pants, the bot will remember the connection between those two words in the future. The more words and connections that a bot is exposed to, the smarter it gets. This process is similar to that of human learning. Our capacity for memory and synthesis is part of what makes us unique, and we’re teaching our best tricks to bots.
Many expect Facebook to roll out a bot store of some kind at its annual F8 conference for software developers this week, which means these bots may soon operate inside Messenger, its messaging app. It has already started testing a virtual assistant bot called “M,” but the product is only available for a few people and still primarily powered by humans.
As people research, they want the information they need as quickly as possible and are increasingly turning to voice search as the technology advances. Email inboxes have become more and more cluttered, so buyers have moved to social media to follow the brands they really care about. Ultimately, they now have the control — the ability to opt out, block, and unfollow any brand that betrays their trust.
Derived from “chat robot”, "chatbots" allow for highly engaging, conversational experiences, through voice and text, that can be customized and used on mobile devices, web browsers, and on popular chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger, or Slack. With the advent of deep learning technologies such as text-to-speech, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing, chatbots that simulate human conversation and dialogue can now be found in call center and customer service workflows, DevOps management, and as personal assistants.
“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
Using chatbot builder platforms. You can create a chatbot with the help of services providing all the necessary features and integrations. It can be a good choice for an in-house chatbot serving your team. This option is associated with some disadvantages, including the limited configuration and the dependence on the service. Some popular platforms for building chatbots are:
Haptik is one of the world's largest Conversational AI platforms reaching over 30 million devices monthly. The company has been at the forefront of the paradigm shift from apps to chatbots, having built a robust set of technology and tools that enable any type of conversational application. Our platform processed over a billion interactions to date and helps enterprises leverage the power of AI to automate critical business processes like Concierge, Customer Support, Lead Generation and E-commerce.
L’usage des chatbots fut d’abord en partie expérimental car il présentait un certain risque pour les marques en fonction des dérapages sémantiques possibles et des manipulations ou détournements également envisageables de la part des internautes. Les progrès dans le domaine ont cependant été rapides et les chatbots s’imposent désormais dans certains contextes comme un nouveau canal de support ou contact client garantissant disponibilité et gains de productivité.
The chatbot is trained to translate the input data into a desired output value. When given this data, it analyzes and forms context to point to the relevant data to react to spoken or written prompts. Looking into deep learning within AI, the machine discovers new patterns in the data without any prior information or training, then extracts and stores the pattern.
[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.
Simplified and scripted. Chatbot technology is being tacked on to the broader AI message, and while it’s important to note that machine learning will help chatbots get better at understand and responding to questions, it’s not going to make them the conversationalists we dream them to be. No matter what the marketing says, chatbots are entirely scripted. User says x, chatbot responds y.
What if you’re creating a bot for a major online clothing retailer? For starters, the bot will require a greeting (“How can I help you?”) as well as a process for saying its goodbyes. In between, the bot needs to respond to inputs, which could range from shopping inquiries to questions about shipping rates or return policies, and the bot must possess a script for fielding questions it doesn’t understand.
Reduce costs: The potential to reduce costs is one of the clearest benefits of using a chatbot. A chatbot can provide a new first line of support, supplement support during peak periods or offer an additional support option. In all of these cases, employing a chatbot can help reduce the number of users who need to speak with a human. You can avoid scaling up your staff or offering human support around the clock.
It's fair to say that I'm pretty obsessed with chatbots right now. There are some great applications popping up from brands that genuinely add value to the end consumer, and early signs are showing that consumers are actually responding really well to them. For those of you who aren't quite sure what I'm talking about, here's a quick overview of what a chatbot is:
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
The term "ChatterBot" was originally coined by Michael Mauldin (creator of the first Verbot, Julia) in 1994 to describe these conversational programs. Today, most chatbots are either accessed via virtual assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, via messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat, or via individual organizations' apps and websites.  Chatbots can be classified into usage categories such as conversational commerce (e-commerce via chat), analytics, communication, customer support, design, developer tools, education, entertainment, finance, food, games, health, HR, marketing, news, personal, productivity, shopping, social, sports, travel and utilities.
Chatbots can have varying levels of complexity and can be stateless or stateful. A stateless chatbot approaches each conversation as if it was interacting with a new user. In contrast, a stateful chatbot is able to review past interactions and frame new responses in context. Adding a chatbot to a company's service or sales department requires low or no coding; today, a number of chatbot service providers that allow developers to build conversational user interfaces for third-party business applications.
If it happens to be an API call / data retrieval, then the control flow handle will remain within the ‘dialogue management’ component that will further use/persist this information to predict the next_action, once again. The dialogue manager will update its current state based on this action and the retrieved results to make the next prediction. Once the next_action corresponds to responding to the user, then the ‘message generator’ component takes over.
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
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.