Chatbots – also known as “conversational agents” – are software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person. There are two primary ways chatbots are offered to visitors: via web-based applications or standalone apps. Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps.
Online chatbots save time and efforts by automating customer support. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, over 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human. However, the opportunites provided by chatbot systems go far beyond giving responses to customers’ inquiries. They are also used for other business tasks, like collecting information about users, helping to organize meetings and reducing overhead costs. There is no wonder that size of the chatbot market is growing exponentially.
Malicious chatbots are frequently used to fill chat rooms with spam and advertisements, by mimicking human behaviour and conversations or to entice people into revealing personal information, such as bank account numbers. They are commonly found on Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and other instant messaging protocols. There has also been a published report of a chatbot used in a fake personal ad on a dating service's website.
An Internet bot, also known as a web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering (web crawler), in which an automated script fetches, analyzes and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. More than half of all web traffic is made up of bots.
“There is hope that consumers will be keen on experimenting with bots to make things happen for them. It used to be like that in the mobile app world 4+ years ago. When somebody told you back then… ‘I have built an app for X’… You most likely would give it a try. Now, nobody does this. It is probably too late to build an app company as an indie developer. But with bots… consumers’ attention spans are hopefully going to be wide open/receptive again!” — Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst
Designing for conversational interfaces represents a big shift in the way we are used to thinking about interaction. Chatbots have less signifiers and affordances than websites and apps – which means words have to work harder to deliver clarity, cohesion and utility for the user. It is a change of paradigm that requires designers to re-wire their brain, their deliverables and their design process to create successful bot experiences.
Lack contextual awareness. Not everyone has all of the data that Google has – but chatbots today lack the awareness that we expect them to have. We assume that chatbot technology will know our IP address, browsing history, previous purchases, but that is just not the case today. I would argue that many chatbots even lack basic connection to other data silos to improve their ability to answer questions.
Next, identify the data sources that will enable the bot to interact intelligently with users. As mentioned earlier, these data sources could contain structured, semi-structured, or unstructured data sets. When you're getting started, a good approach is to make a one-off copy of the data to a central store, such as Cosmos DB or Azure Storage. As you progress, you should create an automated data ingestion pipeline to keep this data current. Options for an automated ingestion pipeline include Data Factory, Functions, and Logic Apps. Depending on the data stores and the schemas, you might use a combination of these approaches.
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.
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One of the first stepping stones to this future are AI-powered messaging solutions, or conversational bots. A conversational bot is a computer program that works automatically and is skilled in communicating through various digital media—including intelligent virtual agents, organizations' apps, organizations' websites, social platforms and messenger platforms. Users can interact with such bots, using voice or text, to access information, complete tasks or execute transactions.
Dan uses an example of a text to speech bot that a user might operate within a car to turn windscreen wipers on and off, and lights on and off. The users’ natural language query is processed by the conversation service to work out the intent and the entity, and then using the context, replies through the dialog in a way that the user can understand.
Users want to ask questions in their own language, and have bots help them. A statement that sounds as straight-forward as “My login isn’t working! I haven’t been able to log into your on-line billing system” might sound straight forward to us, but to a bot, there’s a lot it needs to understand. Watson Conversation Services has learned from Wikipedia, and along with its deep learning techniques, it’s able to work out what the user is asking.
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.