A very common request that we get is people want to practice conversation, said Duolingo's co-founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn. The company originally tried pairing up non-native speakers with native speakers for practice sessions, but according to von Ahn, "about three-quarters of the people we try it with are very embarrassed to speak in a foreign language with another person."
Do the nature of our services and size of our customer base warrant an investment in a more efficient and automated customer service response? How can we offer a more streamlined experience without (necessarily) increasing costly human resources? Amtrak’s website receives over 375,000 daily visitors, and they wanted a solution that provided users with instant access to online self-service.
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.
Derived from “chat robot”, "chatbots" allow for highly engaging, conversational experiences, through voice and text, that can be customized and used on mobile devices, web browsers, and on popular chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger, or Slack. With the advent of deep learning technologies such as text-to-speech, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing, chatbots that simulate human conversation and dialogue can now be found in call center and customer service workflows, DevOps management, and as personal assistants.
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.
Chatbots such as ELIZA and PARRY were early attempts at creating programs that could at least temporarily fool a real human being into thinking they were having a conversation with another person. PARRY's effectiveness was benchmarked in the early 1970s using a version of a Turing test; testers only made the correct identification of human vs. chatbot at a level consistent with making a random guess.
“To be honest, I’m a little worried about the bot hype overtaking the bot reality,” said M.G. Siegler, a partner with GV, the investment firm formerly known as Google Ventures. “Yes, the high level promise of what bots can offer is great. But this isn’t going to happen overnight. And it’s going to take a lot of experimentation and likely bot failure before we get there.”
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?
Efforts by servers hosting websites to counteract bots vary. Servers may choose to outline rules on the behaviour of internet bots by implementing a robots.txt file: this file is simply text stating the rules governing a bot's behaviour on that server. Any bot that does not follow these rules when interacting with (or 'spidering') any server should, in theory, be denied access to, or removed from, the affected website. If the only rule implementation by a server is a posted text file with no associated program/software/app, then adhering to those rules is entirely voluntary – in reality there is no way to enforce those rules, or even to ensure that a bot's creator or implementer acknowledges, or even reads, the robots.txt file contents. Some bots are "good" – e.g. search engine spiders – while others can be used to launch malicious and harsh attacks, most notably, in political campaigns.
Chatbots could be used as weapons on the social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. An entity or individuals could design create a countless number of chatbots to harass people. They could even try to track how successful their harassment is by using machine-learning-based methods to sharpen their strategies and counteract harassment detection tools.
Regardless of which type of classifier is used, the end-result is a response. Like a music box, there can be additional “movements” associated with the machinery. A response can make use of external information (like weather, a sports score, a web lookup, etc.) but this isn’t specific to chatbots, it’s just additional code. A response may reference specific “parts of speech” in the sentence, for example: a proper noun. Also the response (for an intent) can use conditional logic to provide different responses depending on the “state” of the conversation, this can be a random selection (to insert some ‘natural’ feeling).
It’s not all doom and gloom for chatbots. Chatbots are a stopgap until virtual assistants are able to tackle all of our questions and concerns, regardless of the site or platform. Virtual assistants will eventually connect to everything in your digital life, from websites to IoT-enabled devices. Rather than going through different websites and speaking to various different chatbots, the virtual assistant will be the platform for finding the answers you need. If these assistants are doing such a good job, why would you even bother to use a branded chatbot? Realistically this won’t take place for sometime, due to the fragmentation of the marketplace.
If you are looking for another paid platform, Beep Boop may be your next stop. It is a hosting platform that is designed for developers looking to make apps for Facebook Messenger and Slack specifically. First, set up your code using Github, the popular version control repository and Internet hosting service, then input it into the Beep Boop platform to link it with your Facebook Messenger or Slack application. The bots will then be able to interact with your customers with real-time chat and messaging.
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.
As digital continues to rewrite the rules of engagement across industries and markets, a new competitive reality is emerging: “Being digital” soon won’t be enough. Organizations will use artificial intelligence and other technologies to help them make faster, more informed decisions, become far more efficient, and craft more personalized and relevant experiences for both customers and employees.
Now, with the rise of website chatbots, this trend of two-way conversations can be taken to a whole new level. Conversational marketing can be done across many channels, such as over the phone or via SMS. However, an increasing number of companies are leveraging social media to drive their conversational marketing strategy to distinguish their brand and solidify their brand’s voice and values. When most people refer to conversational marketing, they’re talking about interactions started using chatbots and live chat – that move to personal conversations.
Eventually, a single chatbot could become your own personal assistant to take care of everything, whether it's calling you an Uber or setting up a meeting. Or, Facebook Messenger or another platform might let a bunch of individual chatbots to talk to you about whatever is relevant — a chatbot from Southwest Airlines could tell you your flight's delayed, another chatbot from FedEx could tell you your package is on the way, and so on.