There are obvious revenue opportunities around subscriptions, advertising and commerce. If bots are designed to save you time that you’d normally spend on mundane tasks or interactions, it’s possible they’ll seem valuable enough to justify a subscription fee. If bots start to replace some of the functions that you’d normally use a search engine like Google for, it’s easy to imagine some sort of advertising component. Or if bots help you shop, the bot-maker could arrange for a commission.
In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.
Unfortunately, my mom can’t really engage in meaningful conversations anymore, but many people suffering with dementia retain much of their conversational abilities as their illness progresses. However, the shame and frustration that many dementia sufferers experience often make routine, everyday talks with even close family members challenging. That’s why Russian technology company Endurance developed its companion chatbot.
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.
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
A bot is software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own, like making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar or fetching and displaying information. The increasingly common form of bots, chatbots, simulate conversation. They often live inside messaging apps — or are at least designed to look that way — and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human.
The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".