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.
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.
Chatbots are used in a variety of sectors and built for different purposes. There are retail bots designed to pick and order groceries, weather bots that give you weather forecast of the day or week, and simply friendly bots that just talk to people in need of a friend. The fintech sector also uses chatbots to make consumers’ inquiries and application for financial services easier. A small business lender in Montreal, Thinking Capital, uses a virtual assistant to provide customers with 24/7 assistance through the Facebook Messenger. A small business hoping to get a loan from the company need only answer key qualification questions asked by the bot in order to be deemed eligible to receive up to $300,000 in financing.
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.
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.
As digital continues to rewrite the rules of engagement across industries and markets, a new competitive reality is emerging: “Being digital” soon won’t be enough. Organizations will use artificial intelligence and other technologies to help them make faster, more informed decisions, become far more efficient, and craft more personalized and relevant experiences for both customers and employees.
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.
Chatbots can strike up a conversation with any customer about any issue at any time of day. They engage in friendly interactions with customers. Besides, virtual assistants only give a bit of information at a time. This way they don’t tire customers with irrelevant and unnecessary information. Chatbots can maintain conversations and keep customers on your website longer.
Facebook has jumped fully on the conversational commerce bandwagon and is betting big that it can turn its popular Messenger app into a business messaging powerhouse. The company first integrated peer-to-peer payments into Messenger in 2015, and then launched a full chatbot API so businesses can create interactions for customers to occur within the Facebook Messenger app. You can order flowers from 1–800-Flowers, browse the latest fashion and make purchases from Spring, and order an Uber, all from within a Messenger chat.
Its a chat-bot — For simplicity reasons in this article, it is assumed that the user will type in text and the bot would respond back with an appropriate message in the form of text (So, we will not be concerned with the aspects like ASR, speech recognition, speech to text, text to speech etc., Below architecture can anyways be enhanced with these components, as required).
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the technological process in which computers derive meaning from natural human inputs. NLP-Based Conversational Bots are machine learning bots that exploit the power of artificial intelligence, which gives them a “learning brain.” These types of conversational bots have the ability to understand natural language, and do not require specific instructions to respond to questions as observed in types of chatbots such as Scripted and Structured Conversational Bots.
Feine, J., Morana, S., and Maedche, A. (2019). “Leveraging Machine-Executable Descriptive Knowledge in Design Science Research ‐ The Case of Designing Socially-Adaptive Chatbots”. In: Extending the Boundaries of Design Science Theory and Practice. Ed. by B. Tulu, S. Djamasbi, G. Leroy. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 76–91. Download Publication
Search for the bot you want to add. At the time of this writing, there are about a dozen bots available, with more being added every day. Chat bots are available for customer service, news, ordering, and more, depending on the company that releases it. For example, you could get news from the CNN bot and order flowers from the 1-800-flowers bot. The process for finding a bot varies depending on your device:
These days, checking the headlines over morning coffee is as much about figuring out if we should be hunkering down in the basement preparing for imminent nuclear annihilation as it is about keeping up with the day’s headlines. Unfortunately, even the most diligent newshounds may find it difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise, which is why NBC launched its NBC Politics Bot on Facebook Messenger shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
1-800-Flowers’ 2017 first quarter results showed total revenues had increased 6.3 percent to $165.8 million, with the Company’s Gourmet Food and Gift Baskets business as a significant contributor. CEO Chris McCann stated, “…our Fannie May business recorded positive same store sales as well as solid eCommerce growth, reflecting the success of the initiatives we have implemented to enhance its performance.” While McCann doesn’t go into specifics, we assume that initiatives include the implementation of GWYN, which also seems to be supported by CB Insights’ finding: 70% of customers ordering through the chat bot were new 1-800-Flowers customers as of June 2016.
A basic SMS service is available via GitHub to start building a bot which uses IBM’s BlueMix platform which hosts the Watson Conversation Services. A developer can import a workspace to setup a new service. This starts with a blank dashboard where a developer can import all the tools needed to run the conversation service. The services has a dialog flow – a series of options with yes/no answers that the service uses to work out what the user’s intent is, what entity it’s working on, how to respond and how to phrase the response in the best way for the user.
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 .
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.
Conversational bots “live” online and give customers a familiar experience, similar to engaging an employee or a live agent, and they can offer that experience in higher volumes. Conversational bots offer scaling—or the capability to perform equally well under an expanding workload—in ways that human can’t, assisting businesses to reach customers in a way they couldn’t before. For one, businesses have created 24/7/365 online presence through conversational bots.
Another reason is that Facebook, which has 900 million Messenger users, is expected to get into bots. Many see this as a big potential opportunity; where Facebook goes, the rest of the industry often follows. Slack, which lends itself to bot-based services, has also grown dramatically to two million daily users, which bot makers and investors see as a potentially lucrative market.
When one dialog invokes another, the Bot Builder adds the new dialog to the top of the dialog stack. The dialog that is on top of the stack is in control of the conversation. Every new message sent by the user will be subject to processing by that dialog until it either closes or redirects to another dialog. When a dialog closes, it's removed from the stack, and the previous dialog in the stack assumes control of the conversation.
This means our questions must fit with the programming they have been given. Using our weather bot as an example once more, the question ‘Will it rain tomorrow’ could be answered easily. However if the programming is not there, the question ‘Will I need a brolly tomorrow’ may cause the chatbot to respond with a ‘I am sorry, I didn’t understand the question’ type response.
How far are we from building systems with commonsense? One often-heard answer is: not in the near future, while the realistic answer is: we don’t know. Last year, I spent some time trying to build a system that can do better than an information retrieval baseline in taking fourth-grade science exam (which still has a ways to go to gain a passing score of 65%). I failed hard. Here’s an example to get a sense of the difficulty of these questions.
“I believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second. A lot of the dreamers are science fiction authors, they’re artists…They invent these ideas, and they get catalogued as impossible. And we find out later, well, maybe it’s not impossible. Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.”
Authentication. Users start by authenticating themselves using whatever mechanism is provided by their channel of communication with the bot. The bot framework supports many communication channels, including Cortana, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack. For a list of channels, see Connect a bot to channels. When you create a bot with Azure Bot Service, the Web Chat channel is automatically configured. This channel allows users to interact with your bot directly in a web page. You can also connect the bot to a custom app by using the Direct Line channel. The user's identity is used to provide role-based access control, as well as to serve personalized content.
Using this method, you can manage multiple funnels of content upgrades, and even convince your users to take the next step in the buyer journey directly within Messenger. In the example below I just direct the user to subscribe to content recommendations via Messenger, but you could push them to book a meeting with a sales rep, take a free trial or directly purchase your product.
Your first question is how much of it does she want? 1 litre? 500ml? 200? She tells you she wants a 1 litre Tropicana 100% Orange Juice. Now you know that regular Tropicana is easily available, but 100% is hard to come by, so you call up a few stores beforehand to see where it’s available. You find one store that’s pretty close by, so you go back to your mother and tell her you found what she wanted. It’s $2, maybe $3, and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
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It’s not all doom and gloom for chatbots. Chatbots are a stopgap until virtual assistants are able to tackle all of our questions and concerns, regardless of the site or platform. Virtual assistants will eventually connect to everything in your digital life, from websites to IoT-enabled devices. Rather than going through different websites and speaking to various different chatbots, the virtual assistant will be the platform for finding the answers you need. If these assistants are doing such a good job, why would you even bother to use a branded chatbot? Realistically this won’t take place for sometime, due to the fragmentation of the marketplace.
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.
Improve loyalty: By providing a responsive, efficient experience for customers, employees and partners, a chatbot will improve satisfaction and loyalty. Whether your chatbot answers questions about employees’ corporate benefits or provides answers to technical support questions, users can come away with a strengthened connection to your organization.
Alternatively, think about the times you are chatting with a colleague over Slack. The need to find relevant information typically happens during conversations, and instead of having to go to a browser to start searching, you could simply summon your friendly Slack chatbot and get it to do the work for you. Think of it as your own personal podcast producer – pulling up documents, facts, and data at the drop of a hat. This concept can be translated into the virtual assistants we use on the daily. Think about an ambient assistant like Alexa or Google Home that could just be part of a group conversation. Or your trusted assistant taking notes and actions during a meeting.
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.
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."
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.