A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the man-power or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.
Why are chatbots important? A chatbot is often described as one of the most advanced and promising expressions of interaction between humans and machines. However, from a technological point of view, a chatbot only represents the natural evolution of a Question Answering system leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP). Formulating responses to questions in natural language is one of the most typical Examples of Natural Language Processing applied in various enterprises’ end-use applications.
It won’t be an easy march though once we get to the nitty-gritty details. For example, I heard through the grapevine that when Starbucks looked at the voice data they collected from customer orders, they found that there are a few millions unique ways to order. (For those in the field, I’m talking about unique user utterances.) This is to be expected given the wild combinations of latte vs mocha, dairy vs soy, grande vs trenta, extra-hot vs iced, room vs no-room, for here vs to-go, snack variety, spoken accent diversity, etc. The AI practitioner will soon curse all these dimensions before taking a deep learning breath and getting to work. I feel though that given practically unlimited data, deep learning is now good enough to overcome this problem, and it is only a matter of couple of years until we see these TODA solutions deployed. One technique to watch is Generative Adversarial Nets (GAN). Roughly speaking, GAN engages itself in an iterative game of counterfeiting real stuffs, getting caught by the police neural network, improving counterfeiting skill, and rinse-and-repeating until it can pass as your Starbucks’ order-taking person, given enough data and iterations.
As in the prior method, each class is given with some number of example sentences. Once again each sentence is broken down by word (stemmed) and each word becomes an input for the neural network. The synaptic weights are then calculated by iterating through the training data thousands of times, each time adjusting the weights slightly to greater accuracy. By recalculating back across multiple layers (“back-propagation”) the weights of all synapses are calibrated while the results are compared to the training data output. These weights are like a ‘strength’ measure, in a neuron the synaptic weight is what causes something to be more memorable than not. You remember a thing more because you’ve seen it more times: each time the ‘weight’ increases slightly.
Say you want to build a bot that tells the current temperature. The dialog for the bot only needs coding to recognize and report the requested location and temperature. To do this, the bot needs to pull data from the API of the local weather service, based on the user’s location, and to send that data back to the user—basically, a few lines of templatable code and you’re done.
Because chatbots are predominantly found on social media messaging platforms, they're able to reach a virtually limitless audience. They can reach a new customer base for your brand by tapping into new demographics, and they can be integrated across multiple messaging applications, thus making you more readily available to help your customers. This, in turn, opens new opportunities for you to increase sales.
Chatbots succeed when a clear understanding of user intent drives development of both the chatbot logic and the end-user interaction. As part of your scoping process, define the intentions of potential users. What goals will they express in their input? For example, will users want to buy an airline ticket, figure out whether a medical procedure is covered by their insurance plan or determine whether they need to bring their computer in for repair?
WeChat combines a chat-based interface with vast library of add-on features such as a mobile wallet, chat-based transactions, and chat-based media and interactive widgets, and exposes it all to businesses through a powerful API that enables businesses from mom and pop noodle shops to powerhouses such as Nike and Burberry to “friend” their customers and market to them in never before imaginable ways. Over 10MM businesses in China have WeChat accounts, and it is becoming increasingly popular for small businesses to only have a WeChat account, forgoing developing their own website or mobile app completely. US technology firms, in particular Facebook, are taking note.