A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the man-power or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.
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”.
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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.
However, chatbots are not just limited to answering queries and providing basic knowledge. They can work as an aid to the teacher/instructor by identifying spelling and grammatical mistakes with precision, checking homework, assigning projects, and, more importantly, keeping track of students' progress and achievements. A human can only do so much, whereas a bot has virtually an infinite capacity to store and analyse all data.
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This kind of thinking has lead me to develop a bot where the focus is as a medium for content rather than a subsitute for intelligence. So users create content much as conventional author, (but with text stored in spreadsheets rather than anywhere else). Very little is expected from the bot in terms of human behavious such as “learning”, “empathy”, “memory” and character”. Does it work?
With the AI future closer to becoming a reality, companies need to begin preparing to join that reality—or risk getting left behind. Bots are a small, manageable first step toward becoming an intelligent enterprise that can make better decisions more quickly, operate more efficiently, and create the experiences that keep customers and employees engaged.
As IBM elaborates: “The front-end app you develop will interact with an AI application. That AI application — usually a hosted service — is the component that interprets user data, directs the flow of the conversation and gathers the information needed for responses. You can then implement the business logic and any other components needed to enable conversations and deliver results.”
Another benefit is that your chatbot can store information on the types of questions it’s being asked. Not only does this make the chatbot better equipped to answer future questions and upsell additional products, it gives you a better understanding of what your customers need to know to close the deal. With this information, you’ll be better equipped to market more effectively to your customers in the future.
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.