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.
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.
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.
These are hardly ideas of Hollywood’s science fiction. Even when the Starbucks bot can sound like Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha, the public will be unimpressed — we would prefer a real human interaction. Yet the public won’t have a choice; efficient task-oriented dialog agents will be the automatic vending machines and airport check-in kiosks of the near future.
In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.
Furthermore, major banks today are facing increasing pressure to remain competitive as challenger banks and fintech startups crowd the industry. As a result, these banks should consider implementing chatbots wherever human employees are performing basic and time-consuming tasks. This would cut down on salary and benefit costs, improve back-office efficiency, and deliver better customer care.
However, if you’re trying to develop a sophisticated bot that can understand more than a couple of basic commands, you’re heading down a potentially complicated path. More elaborately coded bots respond to various forms of user questions and responses. The bots have typically been “trained” on databases of thousands of words, queries, or sentences so that they can learn to detect lexical similarity. A good e-commerce bot “knows” that trousers are a kind of pants (if you are in the US), though this is beyond the comprehension of a simple, untrained bot.
Developed to assist Nigerian students preparing for their secondary school exam, the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), SimbiBot is a chatbot that uses past exam questions to help students prepare for a variety of subjects. It offers multiple choice quizzes to help students test their knowledge, shows them where they went wrong, and even offers tips and advice based on how well the student is progressing.
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.
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Chatbots can reply instantly to any questions. The waiting time is ‘virtually’ 0 (see what I did there?). Even if a real person eventually shows up to fix the issues, the customer gets engaged in the conversation, which can help you build trust. The problem could be better diagnosed, and the chatbot could perform some routine checks with the user. This saves up time for both the customer and the support agent. That’s a lot better than just recklessly waiting for a representative to arrive.
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".