The evolution of artificial intelligence is now in full swing and chatbots are only a faint splash on a huge wave of progress. Today the number of users of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, Skype and their analogs is skyrocketing, Facebook Messenger alone has more than 1.2 billion monthly users. With the spread of messengers, virtual chatterbots that imitate human conversations for solving various tasks are becoming increasingly in demand. Chinese WeChat bots can already set medical appointments, call a taxi, send money to friends, check in for a flight and many many other.
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.
The biggest benefit of having a conversational AI solution is the instant response rate. Answering queries within an hour translates into 7X increase in the likelihood of converting a lead. Customers are more likely to talk about a negative experience than a positive one. So nipping a negative review right in the bud is going to help improve your product’s brand standing.
Unfortunately the old adage of trash in, trash out came back to bite Microsoft. Tay was soon being fed racist, sexist and genocidal language by the Twitter user-base, leading her to regurgitate these views. Microsoft eventually took Tay down for some re-tooling, but when it returned the AI was significantly weaker, simply repeating itself before being taken offline indefinitely.
To envision the future of chatbots/virtual assistants, we need to take a quick trip down memory lane. Remember Clippy? Love him or hate him, he’s ingrained in our memory as the little assistant who couldn’t (sorry, Clippy.). But someday, this paper clip could be the chosen one. Imagine with me if you will a support agent speaking with a customer over the phone, or even chat support. Clippy could be listening in, reviewing the questions the customer is posing, and proactively providing relevant content to the support agent. Instead of digging around from system to system, good ‘ole Clippy would have their back, saving them the trouble of hunting down relevant information needed for the task at hand.
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.
I will not go into the details of extracting each feature value here. It can be referred from the documentation of rasa-core link that I provided above. So, assuming we extracted all the required feature values from the sample conversations in the required format, we can then train an AI model like LSTM followed by softmax to predict the next_action. Referring to the above figure, this is what the ‘dialogue management’ component does. Why LSTM is more appropriate? — As mentioned above, we want our model to be context aware and look back into the conversational history to predict the next_action. This is akin to a time-series model (pls see my other LSTM-Time series article) and hence can be best captured in the memory state of the LSTM model. The amount of conversational history we want to look back can be a configurable hyper-parameter to the model.
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".
WeChat was created by Chinese holding company Tencent three years ago. The product was created by a special projects team within Tencent (who also owns the dominant desktop messaging software in China, QQ) under the mandate of creating a completely new mobile-first messaging experience for the Chinese market. In three short years, WeChat has exploded in popularity and has become the dominant mobile messaging platform in China, with approximately 700M monthly active users (MAUs).
1. AI-based: these ones really rely on training and are fairly complicated to set up. You train the chatbot to understand specific topics and tell your users which topics your chatbot can engage with. AI chatbots require all sorts of fall back and intent training. For example, let’s say you built a doctor chatbot (off the top of my head because I am working on one at the moment), it would have to understand that “i have a headache” and “got a headache” and “my head hurts” are the same intent. The user is free to engage and the chatbot has to pick things up.
A virtual assistant is an app that comprehends natural, ordinary language voice commands and carries out tasks for the users. Well-known virtual assistants include Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. Also, virtual assistants are generally cloud-based programs so they need internet-connected devices and/or applications in order to work. Virtual assistants can perform tasks like adding calendar appointments, controlling and checking the status of a smart home, sending text messages, and getting directions.
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.