Simply put, chatbots are computer programs designed to have conversations with human users. Chances are you’ve interacted with one. They answer questions, guide you through a purchase, provide technical support, and can even teach you a new language. You can find them on devices, websites, text messages, and messaging apps—in other words, they’re everywhere.
The most advanced bots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It's as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
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.
Endurance is a companion chatbot that uses neurolinguistics programming (better known as NLP) to have friendly conversations with suspected patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It uses AI technology to maintain a lucid conversation while simultaneously testing the human user’s ability to remember information in different ways. The chatbot encourages the user to talk about their favorite activities, memories, music, etc. This doesn’t just test the person’s memory but actively promotes their ability to recall.
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.
Kik Messenger, which has 275 million registered users, recently announced a bot store. This includes one bot to send people Vine videos and another for getting makeup suggestions from Sephora. Twitter has had bots for years, like this bot that tweets about earthquakes as soon as they’re registered or a Domino’s bot that allows you to order a pizza by tweeting a pizza emoji.
Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN. While the bot revolution is still in the early phase, many believe 2016 will be the year these conversational interactions take off.
A toolkit can be integral to getting started in building chatbots, so insert, BotKit. It gives a helping hand to developers making bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twilio, and more. This BotKit can be used to create clever, conversational applications which map out the way that real humans speak. This essential detail differentiates from some of its other chatbot toolkit counterparts.
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.
Once your bot is running in production, you will need a DevOps team to keep it that way. Continually monitor the system to ensure the bot operates at peak performance. Use the logs sent to Application Insights or Cosmos DB to create monitoring dashboards, either using Application Insights itself, Power BI, or a custom web app dashboard. Send alerts to the DevOps team if critical errors occur or performance falls below an acceptable threshold.
Chatbots are a great way to answer customer questions. According to a case study, Amtrak uses chatbots to answer roughly 5,000,000 questions a year. Not only are the questions answered promptly, but Amtrak saved $1,000,000 in customer service expenses in the year the study was conducted. It also experienced a 25 percent increase in travel bookings.
This is great for the consumer because they don't need to leave the environment of Facebook to get access to the content they want, and it's hugely beneficial to Politico, as they're able to push on-demand content through to an increasingly engaged audience - oh, and they can also learn a bunch of interesting things about their audience in the process (I'll get to this shortly).
Google, the company with perhaps the greatest artificial intelligence chops and the biggest collection of data about you — both of which power effective bots — has been behind here. But it is almost certainly plotting ways to catch up. Google Now, its personal assistant system built within Android, serves many functions of the new wave of bots, but has had hiccups. The company is reportedly working on a chatbot that will live in a mobile messaging product and is experimenting with ways to integrate Now deeper with search.
Artificial Intelligence is currently being deployed in customer service to both augment and replace human agents - with the primary goals of improving the customer experience and reducing human customer service costs. While the technology is not yet able to perform all the tasks a human customer service representative could, many consumer requests are very simple ask that sometimes be handled by current AI technologies without human input.
Chatbots are unique because they not only engage with your customers, they also retain them. This means that unlike other forms of marketing, chatbots keep your customers entertained for longer. For example, let's say you catch your audience's attention with a video. While this video may be extremely engaging, once it ends, it doesn't have much more to offer.
Students from different backgrounds can share their views and perspectives on a specific matter while a chatbot can still adapt to each one of them individually. Chatbots can improve engagement among students and encourage interaction with the rest of the class by assigning group work and projects - similarly to what teachers usually do in regular classes.
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).
What does the Echo have to do with conversational commerce? While the most common use of the device include playing music, making informational queries, and controlling home devices, Alexa (the device’s default addressable name) can also tap into Amazon’s full product catalog as well as your order history and intelligently carry out commands to buy stuff. You can re-order commonly ordered items, or even have Alexa walk you through some options in purchasing something you’ve never ordered before.
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.
One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. uses a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.