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.
To inspire the next generation of explorers, NASA reaches out to students in schools, community organizations, and public events. A star robotic ambassador is “Rov-E,” a close replica of real NASA Mars rovers. Through Amazon Lex, NASA staff can now easily navigate Rov-E via voice commands -- an effective conversational interface when speaking with large crowds. Multi-turn dialog management capability enables Rov-E "to talk,” answering students’ questions about Mars in an engaging way. Integration with AWS services allows Rov-E to connect and scale with various data sources to retrieve NASA’s Mars exploration information.
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.
World Environment Day 2019 is focusing on climate change, and more specifically air pollution, what causes it, and importantly, what we can do about it. Through a range of blogs and an in-depth look at current vocabulary on the topic, we highlight some of the words you may need to know to be able to take part in arguably one of the most important discussions of our time.
A chatbot (also known as a talkbots, chatterbot, Bot, IM bot, interactive agent, or Artificial Conversational Entity) is a computer program or an artificial intelligence which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, thereby passing the Turing test. Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatterbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler systems scan for keywords within the input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database.
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.
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?
Kik is one of the most popular chat apps among teens with 275M MAUs and 40% of those are in the 13–24 year old demographic. In April, Kik launched its own bot store with 16 launch partners including Sephora, H&M, Vine, the Weather Channel, and Funny or Die. Using Kik’s bots currently feel like using the internet in 1994, very rough around the edges and limited functionality / usefulness. However, we’ll see how their API and bots progress over time, Kik’s popularity among an attractive demographic might convince some brands to invest in the platform.
Telegram launched its bot API in 2015, and launched version 2.0 of its platform in April 2016, adding support for bots to send rich media and access geolocation services. As with Kik, Telegram’s bots feel spartan and lack compelling features at this point, but that could change over time. Telegram has also yet to add payment features, so there are not yet any shopping-related bots on the platform.
Along with the continued development of our avatars, we are also investigating machine learning and deep learning techniques, and working on the creation of a short term memory for our bots. This will allow humans interacting with our AI to develop genuine human-like relationships with their bot; any personal information that is exchanged will be remembered by the bot and recalled in the correct context at the appropriate time. The bots will get to know their human companion, and utilise this knowledge to form warmer and more personal interactions.
As you roll out new features or bug fixes to your bot, it's best to use multiple deployment environments, such as staging and production. Using deployment slots from Azure DevOps allows you to do this with zero downtime. You can test your latest upgrades in the staging environment before swapping them to the production environment. In terms of handling load, App Service is designed to scale up or out manually or automatically. Because your bot is hosted in Microsoft's global datacenter infrastructure, the App Service SLA promises high availability.
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.
While messaging and voice interfaces are central components, they fit into a larger picture of increasing infusion of technology into our daily lives, which in turn is unlocking new potential for brand-to-consumer interaction. The fact is, technology overall is becoming more deeply woven into our lives, and the entire ecosystem is enjoying tighter cohesion through the increasing availability and sophistication of APIs. Smart companies are finding new and innovative touch points with consumers that are contextual, relevant, highly personal, and yes, conversational. Commerce is becoming not only more conversational but more ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into our lives, and the way we interact with brands will be forever changed as a result.
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
In our work at ZipfWorks building and scaling intelligent shopping platforms and applications, we pay close attention to emerging trends impacting digital commerce such as chatbots and mobile commerce. As this nascent trend towards a more conversational commerce ecosystem unfolds at a dizzying pace, we felt it would be useful to take a step back and look at the major initiatives and forces shaping this trend and compiled them here in this report. We’ve applied some of these concepts in our current project Dealspotr, to help more shoppers save more money through intelligent use of technology and social product design.
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
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".