If AI struggles with fourth-grade science question answering, should AI be expected to hold an adult-level, open-ended chit-chat about politics, entertainment, and weather? It is thus encouraging to see that Microsoft’s Satya Nadella did not give up on Tay after its debacle, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is sponsoring an Alexa social chatbot competition. I love this below quote from Jeff:
One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. utilises a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.
Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN. While the bot revolution is still in the early phase, many believe 2016 will be the year these conversational interactions take off.
Kik is one of the most popular chat apps among teens with 275M MAUs and 40% of those are in the 13–24 year old demographic. In April, Kik launched its own bot store with 16 launch partners including Sephora, H&M, Vine, the Weather Channel, and Funny or Die. Using Kik’s bots currently feel like using the internet in 1994, very rough around the edges and limited functionality / usefulness. However, we’ll see how their API and bots progress over time, Kik’s popularity among an attractive demographic might convince some brands to invest in the platform.
If you are looking for another paid platform, Beep Boop may be your next stop. It is a hosting platform that is designed for developers looking to make apps for Facebook Messenger and Slack specifically. First, set up your code using Github, the popular version control repository and Internet hosting service, then input it into the Beep Boop platform to link it with your Facebook Messenger or Slack application. The bots will then be able to interact with your customers with real-time chat and messaging.
Shane Mac, CEO of San Francisco-based Assist,warned from challenges businesses face when trying to implement chatbots into their support teams: “Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard.
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
This importance is reinforced by Jacqueline Payne, Customer Support Manager at Paperclip Digital, who says ‘Customer service isn’t a buzzword. But too many businesses treat it like it is. As a viable avenue from which to lower customer acquisition costs and cultivate a loyal customer base, chat bots can play a pivotal role in driving business growth.’
According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, "Chatbots are [...] increasingly used in particular for mental health applications, prevention and behavior change applications (such as smoking cessation or physical activity interventions).". They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety. A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.
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.
Do the nature of our services and size of our customer base warrant an investment in a more efficient and automated customer service response? How can we offer a more streamlined experience without (necessarily) increasing costly human resources? Amtrak’s website receives over 375,000 daily visitors, and they wanted a solution that provided users with instant access to online self-service.
To envision the future of chatbots/virtual assistants, we need to take a quick trip down memory lane. Remember Clippy? Love him or hate him, he’s ingrained in our memory as the little assistant who couldn’t (sorry, Clippy.). But someday, this paper clip could be the chosen one. Imagine with me if you will a support agent speaking with a customer over the phone, or even chat support. Clippy could be listening in, reviewing the questions the customer is posing, and proactively providing relevant content to the support agent. Instead of digging around from system to system, good ‘ole Clippy would have their back, saving them the trouble of hunting down relevant information needed for the task at hand.
Botsify is another Facebook chatbot platform that helps make it easy to integrate chatbots into the system. Its paid subscription helps you in five easy steps. 1) Log into the botsify.com site, 2) Connect your Facebook account, 3) Setup a webhook, 4) Write up commands for the chatbot you are creating, and 5) Let Botisfy handle the customer service for you. If the paid services are a little too much, they do offer a free service that lets you create as many bots as your lovely imagination can dream up.
Along with the continued development of our avatars, we are also investigating machine learning and deep learning techniques, and working on the creation of a short term memory for our bots. This will allow humans interacting with our AI to develop genuine human-like relationships with their bot; any personal information that is exchanged will be remembered by the bot and recalled in the correct context at the appropriate time. The bots will get to know their human companion, and utilise this knowledge to form warmer and more personal interactions.
The market shapes customer behavior. Gartner predicts that “40% of mobile interactions will be managed by smart agents by 2020.” Every single business out there today either has a chatbot already or is considering one. 30% of customers expect to see a live chat option on your website. Three out of 10 consumers would give up phone calls to use messaging. As more and more customers begin expecting your company to have a direct way to contact you, it makes sense to have a touch point on a messenger.
This is great for the consumer because they don't need to leave the environment of Facebook to get access to the content they want, and it's hugely beneficial to Politico, as they're able to push on-demand content through to an increasingly engaged audience - oh, and they can also learn a bunch of interesting things about their audience in the process (I'll get to this shortly).
“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.)
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).