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.
Perhaps the most important aspect of implementing a chatbot is selecting the right natural language processing (NLP) engine. If the user interacts with the bot through voice, for example, then the chatbot requires a speech recognition engine. Business owners also have to decide whether they want structured or unstructured conversations. Chatbots built for structured conversations are highly scripted, which simplifies programming but restricts the kinds of things that the users can ask.
…utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context. The net result is that you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal.
One key reason: The technology that powers bots, artificial intelligence software, is improving dramatically, thanks to heightened interest from key Silicon Valley powers like Facebook and Google. That AI enables computers to process language — and actually converse with humans — in ways they never could before. It came about from unprecedented advancements in software (Google’s Go-beating program, for example) and hardware capabilities.
Indeed, this is one of the key benefits of chatbots – providing a 24/7/365 presence that can give prospects and customers access to information no matter when they need it. This, in turn, can result in cost-savings for companies that deploy chatbots, as they cut down on the labour-hours that would be required for staff to manage a direct messaging service every hour of the week.
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.
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.
“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
Smart chatbots rely on artificial intelligence when they communicate with users. Instead of pre-prepared answers, the robot responds with adequate suggestions on the topic. In addition, all the words said by the customers are recorded for later processing. However, the Forrester report “The State of Chatbots” points out that artificial intelligence is not a magic and is not yet ready to produce marvelous experiences for users on its own. On the contrary, it requires a huge work:
“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.
Operator calls itself a “request network” aiming to “unlock the 90% of commerce that’s not on the internet.” The Operator app, developed by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, connects you with a network of “operators” who act like concierges who can execute any shopping-related request. You can order concert tickets, get gift ideas, or even get interior design recommendations for new furniture. Operator seems to be positioning itself towards “high consideration” purchases, bigger ticket purchases requiring more research and expertise, where its operators can add significant value to a transaction.
Consider why someone would turn to a bot in the first place. According to an upcoming HubSpot research report, of the 71% of people willing to use messaging apps to get customer assistance, many do it because they want their problem solved, fast. And if you've ever used (or possibly profaned) Siri, you know there's a much lower tolerance for machines to make mistakes.
Oh and by the way: We’ve been hard at work on some interesting projects at Coveo, one of those focusing squarely on the world of chatbots. We’ve leveraged our insight engine, and enabled it to work within the confines of your preferred chat tool: the power of Coveo, in chatbot form. The best part about our work in the field of chatbots? The code is out there in the wild waiting for you to utilize it, providing that you are already a customer or partner of Coveo. All you need to do is jump over to the Coveo Labs github page, download it, and get your hands dirty!
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock.com, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app. In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly. These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.