Chatbots currently operate through a number of channels, including web, within apps, and on messaging platforms. They also work across the spectrum from digital commerce to banking using bots for research, lead generation, and brand awareness. An increasing amount of businesses are experimenting with chatbots for e-commerce, customer service, and content delivery.
The upcoming TODA agents are good at one thing, and one thing only. As Facebook found out with the ambitious Project M, building general personal assistants that can help users in multiple tasks (cross-domain agents) is hard. Think awfully hard. Beyond the obvious increase in scope, knowledge, and vocabulary, there is no built-in data generator that feeds the hungry learning machine (sans an unlikely concerted effort to aggregate the data silos from multiple businesses). The jury is out whether the army of human agents that Project M employs can scale, even with Facebook’s kind of resources. In addition, cross-domain agents will probably need major advances in areas such as domain adaptation, transfer learning, dialog planning and management, reinforcement/apprenticeship learning, automatic dialog evaluation, etc.

A basic SMS service is available via GitHub to start building a bot which uses IBM’s BlueMix platform which hosts the Watson Conversation Services. A developer can import a workspace to setup a new service. This starts with a blank dashboard where a developer can import all the tools needed to run the conversation service. The services has a dialog flow – a series of options with yes/no answers that the service uses to work out what the user’s intent is, what entity it’s working on, how to respond and how to phrase the response in the best way for the user.

There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics. 


[In] artificial intelligence ... machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained ... its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures ... The observer says to himself "I could have written that". With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked "intelligent", to that reserved for curios ... The object of this paper is to cause just such a re-evaluation of the program about to be "explained". Few programs ever needed it more.[8]
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