Two trends — the exploding popularity of mobile messaging apps and advances in artificial intelligence — are coinciding to enable a new generation of tools that enable brands to communicate with customers in powerful new ways at reduced cost. Retailers and technology firms are experimenting with chatbots, powered by a combination of machine learning, natural language processing, and live operators, to provide customer service, sales support, and other commerce-related functions.
With competitor Venmo already established, peer-to-peer payments is not in and of itself a compelling feature for Snapchat. However, adding wallet functionality and payment methods to the app does lay the groundwork for Snapchat to delve directly into commerce. The messaging app’s commerce strategy became more clear in April 2016 with its launch of shoppable stories with select partners in its Discover section. For the first time, while viewing video stories from Target and Lancome, users were able to “swipe up” to visit an e-commerce page embedded within the Snapchat app where they could purchase products from those partners.
According to this study by Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, “the real buzz about this technology did not start before the spring of 2016. Two reasons for the sudden and renewed interest in chatbots were [number one] massive advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and a major usage shift from online social networksto mobile messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Slack, Kik, and Viber.”
Whilst the payout wasn't huge within the early days of Amazon, those who got in early are now seeing huge rewards, with 38% of shoppers starting their buying journey within Amazon (source), making it the number one retail search engine. Some studies are suggesting that Amazon is responsible for 80% of e-commerce growth for publicly traded web retailers (source).
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
In 1950, Alan Turing's famous article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" was published, which proposed what is now called the Turing test as a criterion of intelligence. This criterion depends on the ability of a computer program to impersonate a human in a real-time written conversation with a human judge, sufficiently well that the judge is unable to distinguish reliably—on the basis of the conversational content alone—between the program and a real human. The notoriety of Turing's proposed test stimulated great interest in Joseph Weizenbaum's program ELIZA, published in 1966, which seemed to be able to fool users into believing that they were conversing with a real human. However Weizenbaum himself did not claim that ELIZA was genuinely intelligent, and the Introduction to his paper presented it more as a debunking exercise:
The term "ChatterBot" was originally coined by Michael Mauldin (creator of the first Verbot, Julia) in 1994 to describe these conversational programs. Today, most chatbots are either accessed via virtual assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, via messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat, or via individual organizations' apps and websites.  Chatbots can be classified into usage categories such as conversational commerce (e-commerce via chat), analytics, communication, customer support, design, developer tools, education, entertainment, finance, food, games, health, HR, marketing, news, personal, productivity, shopping, social, sports, travel and utilities.
To get started, you can build your bot online using the Azure Bot Service, selecting from the available C# and Node.js templates. As your bot gets more sophisticated, however, you will need to create your bot locally then deploy it to the web. Choose an IDE, such as Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code, and a programming language. SDKs are available for the following languages:
I know what you’re thinking – when will the world of marketing just stand still for a moment and let us all catch up?!?! No such luck, dear readers. No sooner have we all gotten to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to start building live video campaigns into our content marketing strategies, something else comes along that promises to be the next game-changer. And so here we are with the most recent marketing phenomenon – chatbots.
How far are we from building systems with commonsense? One often-heard answer is: not in the near future, while the realistic answer is: we don’t know. Last year, I spent some time trying to build a system that can do better than an information retrieval baseline in taking fourth-grade science exam (which still has a ways to go to gain a passing score of 65%). I failed hard. Here’s an example to get a sense of the difficulty of these questions.
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
Your bot can use other AI services to further enrich the user experience. The Cognitive Services suite of pre-built AI services (which includes LUIS and QnA Maker) has services for vision, speech, language, search, and location. You can quickly add functionality such as language translation, spell checking, sentiment analysis, OCR, location awareness, and content moderation. These services can be wired up as middleware modules in your bot to interact more naturally and intelligently with the user.
The Evie chatbot has had a huge impact on social media over the last few years. She is probably the most popular artificial personality on YouTube. She has appeared in several videos by PewdiePie, the most subscribed YouTuber in the world. This includes a flirting video with over 12 million views! Evie has been filmed speaking many different languages. She chats with Squeezie in French, El Rubius and El Rincón De Giorgio in Spanish, GermanLetsPlay and ConCrafter in German, NDNG - Enes Batur in Turkish, Stuu Games in Polish and jacksepticeye, ComedyShortsGamer and KSIOlajidebtHD in English. And that is a very small selection. Evie shares her database with Cleverbot, which is an internet star in its own right. Cleverbot conversations have long been shared on Twitter, Facebook, websites, forums and bulletin boards. We are currently working to give Evie some more artificial companions, such as the male avatar Boibot.
Rather than having the campaign speak for Einstein, we wanted Einstein to speak for himself, Layne Harris, 360i’s VP, Head of Innovation Technology, said to GeoMarketing. "We decided to pursue a conversational chatbot that would feel natural and speak as Einstein would. This provides a more intimate and immersive experience for users to really connect with him one on one and organically discover more content from the show."
As you roll out new features or bug fixes to your bot, it's best to use multiple deployment environments, such as staging and production. Using deployment slots from Azure DevOps allows you to do this with zero downtime. You can test your latest upgrades in the staging environment before swapping them to the production environment. In terms of handling load, App Service is designed to scale up or out manually or automatically. Because your bot is hosted in Microsoft's global datacenter infrastructure, the App Service SLA promises high availability.
For example, ecommerce companies will likely want a chatbot that can display products, handle shipping questions, but a healthcare chatbot would look very different. Also, while most chatbot software is continually upping the AI-ante, a company called Landbot is taking a different approach, stripping away the complexity to help create better customer conversations.
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.
The fact that you can now run ads directly to Messenger is an enormous opportunity for any business. This skips the convoluted and leaky process of trying to acquire someone's email address to nurture them outside of Facebook's platform. Instead, you can retain the connection with someone inside Facebook and improve the overall conversion rates to receiving an engagement.
The chatbot design is the process that defines the interaction between the user and the chatbot. The chatbot designer will define the chatbot personality, the questions that will be asked to the users, and the overall interaction.  It can be viewed as a subset of the conversational design.In order to speed up this process, designers can use dedicated chatbot design tools, that allow for immediate preview, team collaboration and video export. An important part of the chatbot design is also centered around user testing. User testing can be performed following the same principles that guide the user testing of graphical interfaces.
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.
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.
“We believe that you don’t need to know how to program to build a bot, that’s what inspired us at Chatfuel a year ago when we started bot builder. We noticed bots becoming hyper-local, i.e. a bot for a soccer team to keep in touch with fans or a small art community bot. Bots are efficient and when you let anyone create them easily magic happens.” — Dmitrii Dumik, Founder of Chatfuel
2. Flow-based: these work on user interaction with buttons and text. If you have used Matthew’s chatbot, that is a flow-based chatbot. The chatbot asks a question then offers options in the form of buttons (Matthew’s has a yes/no option). These are more limited, but you get the possibility of really driving down the conversation and making sure your users don’t stray off the path.
Screenless conversations are expected to dominate even more as internet connectivity and social media is poised to expand. From the era of Eliza to Alice to today’s conversational bots, we have come a long way. Conversational bots are changing the way businesses and programs interact with us. They have simplified many aspects of device use and the daily grind, and made interactions between customers and businesses more efficient.
The chatbot uses keywords that users type in the chat line and guesses what they may be looking for. For example, if you own a restaurant that has vegan options on the menu, you might program the word “vegan” into the bot. Then when users type in that word, the return message will include vegan options from the menu or point out the menu section that features these dishes.
Magic, launched in early 2015, is one of the earliest examples of conversational commerce by launching one of the first all-in-one intelligent virtual assistants as a service. Unique in that the service does not even have an app (you access it purely via SMS), Magic promises to be able to handle virtually any task you send it — almost like a human executive assistant. Based on user and press accounts, Magic seems to be able to successfully carry out a variety of odd tasks from setting up flight reservations to ordering hard-to-find food items.
If it happens to be an API call / data retrieval, then the control flow handle will remain within the ‘dialogue management’ component that will further use/persist this information to predict the next_action, once again. The dialogue manager will update its current state based on this action and the retrieved results to make the next prediction. Once the next_action corresponds to responding to the user, then the ‘message generator’ component takes over.
“It’s hard to balance that urge to just dogpile the latest thing when you’re feeling like there’s a land grab or gold rush about to happen all around you and that you might get left behind. But in the end quality wins out. Everyone will be better off if there’s laser focus on building great bot products that are meaningfully differentiated.” — Ryan Block, Cofounder of Begin.com
Once your bot is running in production, you will need a DevOps team to keep it that way. Continually monitor the system to ensure the bot operates at peak performance. Use the logs sent to Application Insights or Cosmos DB to create monitoring dashboards, either using Application Insights itself, Power BI, or a custom web app dashboard. Send alerts to the DevOps team if critical errors occur or performance falls below an acceptable threshold.
The process of building a chatbot can be divided into two main tasks: understanding the user's intent and producing the correct answer. The first task involves understanding the user input. In order to properly understand a user input in a free text form, a Natural Language Processing Engine can be used. The second task may involve different approaches depending on the type of the response that the chatbot will generate.
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.
This machine learning algorithm, known as neural networks, consists of different layers for analyzing and learning data. Inspired by the human brain, each layer is consists of its own artificial neurons that are interconnected and responsive to one another. Each connection is weighted by previous learning patterns or events and with each input of data, more "learning" takes place.
“The chat space is sort of the last unpolluted space [on your phone],” said Sam Mandel, who works at the startup studio Betaworks and is also building a weather bot for Slack called Poncho. “It’s like the National Park of people’s online experience. Right now, the way people use chat services, it’s really a good private space that you control.” (That, of course, could quickly go sour if early implementations are too spammy or useless.)
However, chatbots are not just limited to answering queries and providing basic knowledge. They can work as an aid to the teacher/instructor by identifying spelling and grammatical mistakes with precision, checking homework, assigning projects, and, more importantly, keeping track of students' progress and achievements. A human can only do so much, whereas a bot has virtually an infinite capacity to store and analyse all data.
Today, more than ever, instant availability and approachability matter. Which is why your presence should be dictated by your customer’s preference or the type of message your business wants to convey. Keep in mind that these can overlap or change depending on your demographic you wish to acquire or cater to. There are very few set-in-stone rules when it comes to new customers.
Chatting with a bot should be like talking to a human that knows everything. If you're using a bot to change an airline reservation, the bot should know if you have an unused credit on your account and whether you typically pick the aisle or window seat. Artificial intelligence will continue to radically shape this front, but a bot should connect with your current systems so a shared contact record can drive personalization.
It takes bold visionaries and risk-takers to build future technologies into realities. In the field of chatbots, there are many companies across the globe working on this mission. Our mega list of artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and chatbot companies, covers the top companies and startups who are innovating in this space.
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.
Several studies accomplished by analytics agencies such as Juniper or Gartner  report significant reduction of cost of customer services, leading to billions of dollars of economy in the next 10 years. Gartner predicts an integration by 2020 of chatbots in at least 85% of all client's applications to customer service. Juniper's study announces an impressive amount of $8 billion retained annually by 2022 due to the use of chatbots.