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.
“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. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
A basic SMS service is available via GitHub to start building a bot which uses IBM’s BlueMix platform which hosts the Watson Conversation Services. A developer can import a workspace to setup a new service. This starts with a blank dashboard where a developer can import all the tools needed to run the conversation service. The services has a dialog flow – a series of options with yes/no answers that the service uses to work out what the user’s intent is, what entity it’s working on, how to respond and how to phrase the response in the best way for the user.
As VP of Coveo’s Platform line of business, Gauthier Robe oversees the company’s Intelligent Search Platform and roadmap, including Coveo Cloud, announced in June 2015. Gauthier is passionate about using technology to improve customers’ and people’s lives. He has over a decade of international experience in the high-tech industry and deep knowledge of Cloud Computing, electronics, IoT, and product management. Prior to Coveo, Gauthier worked for Amazon Web Services and held various positions in high-tech consulting firms, helping customers envision the future and achieve its potential. Gauthier resides in the Boston area and has an engineering degree from UCL & MIT. In his spare time, Gauthier enjoys tinkering with new technologies and connected devices.
2017 was the year that AI and chatbots took off in business, not just in developed nations, but across the whole world. Sage have reported that this global trend is boosting international collaboration between startups across all continents, such as the European Commission-backed Startup Europe Comes to Africa (SEC2A) which was held in November 2017.
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:
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.
Open domain chatbots tends to talk about general topics and give appropriate responses. In other words, the knowledge domain is receptive to a wider pool of knowledge. However, these bots are difficult to perfect because language is so versatile. Conversations on social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit are typically considered open domain — they can go in virtually any direction. Furthermore, the whole context around a query requires common sense to understand many new topics properly, which is even harder for computers to grasp.
Speaking ahead of the Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney, Magnus Revang, research director at Gartner, said the broad appeal of chatbots stems from the efficiency and ease of interaction they create for employees, customers or other users. The potential benefits are significant for enterprises and shouldn’t be ignored.
Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations says: “I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t think we’re going to see this mass exodus of people stopping building apps and going to build bots. I think they’re going to build bots in addition to the app that they have or the service they provide,” as reported by re/code.
As people research, they want the information they need as quickly as possible and are increasingly turning to voice search as the technology advances. Email inboxes have become more and more cluttered, so buyers have moved to social media to follow the brands they really care about. Ultimately, they now have the control — the ability to opt out, block, and unfollow any brand that betrays their trust.
Yes, witty banter is a plus. But, the ultimate mission of a bot is to provide a service people actually want to use. As long as you think of your bot as just another communication channel, your focus will be misguided. The best bots harness the micro-decisions consumers experience on a daily basis and see them as an opportunity to help. Whether it's adjusting a reservation, updating the shipping info for an order, or giving medical advice, bots provide a solution when people need it most.
Tay, an AI chatbot that learns from previous interaction, caused major controversy due to it being targeted by internet trolls on Twitter. The bot was exploited, and after 16 hours began to send extremely offensive Tweets to users. This suggests that although the bot learnt effectively from experience, adequate protection was not put in place to prevent misuse.
NBC Politics Bot allowed users to engage with the conversational agent via Facebook to identify breaking news topics that would be of interest to the network’s various audience demographics. After beginning the initial interaction, the bot provided users with customized news results (prioritizing video content, a move that undoubtedly made Facebook happy) based on their preferences.
There are multiple chatbot development platforms available if you are looking to develop Facebook Messenger bot. While each has their own pros and cons, Dialogflow is one strong contender. Offering one of the best NLU (Natural Language Understanding) and context management, Dialogflow makes it very easy to create Facebook Messenger bot. In this tutorial, we’ll…
Not integrated. This goes hand-in-hand with the contextual knowledge, but chatbots often suffer from “death by data silo” where their access to data is limited. If a chatbot is “chatting with” a customer, they not only need to access the contextual data of their customer but also have access to every place where the answer to the customer’s question may reside. Product documentation site, customer community, different websites are all places where that answer can be.
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.
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.
“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.)
I argued that it is super hard to scale a one-trick TODA into a general assistant that helps the user getting things done across multiple tasks. An intelligence assistant is arguably expected to hold an informal chit-chat with the user. It is this area where we are staring into perhaps the biggest challenge of AI. Observe how Samantha introduces herself to Joaquin Phoenix’s Ted in the clip below:
Love them or hate them, chatbots are here to stay. Chatbots have become extraordinarily popular in recent years largely due to dramatic advancements in machine learning and other underlying technologies such as natural language processing. Today’s chatbots are smarter, more responsive, and more useful – and we’re likely to see even more of them in the coming years.
Many expect Facebook to roll out a bot store of some kind at its annual F8 conference for software developers this week, which means these bots may soon operate inside Messenger, its messaging app. It has already started testing a virtual assistant bot called “M,” but the product is only available for a few people and still primarily powered by humans.
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics.
By 2022, task-oriented dialog agents/chatbots will take your coffee order, help with tech support problems, and recommend restaurants on your travel. They will be effective, if boring. What do I see beyond 2022? I have no idea. Amara’s law says that we tend to overestimate technology in the short term while underestimating it in the long run. I hope I am right about the short term but wrong about AI in 2022 and beyond! Who would object against a Starbucks barista-bot that can chat about weather and crack a good joke?
Closed domain chatbots focus on a specific knowledge domain, and these bots may fail to answer questions in other knowledge domains. For example, a restaurant booking conversational bot will be able to take your reservation, but may not respond to a question about the price of an air ticket. A user could hypothetically attempt to take the conversation elsewhere, however, closed domain chatbots are not required, nor often programmed to handle such cases.
The upcoming TODA agents are good at one thing, and one thing only. As Facebook found out with the ambitious Project M, building general personal assistants that can help users in multiple tasks (cross-domain agents) is hard. Think awfully hard. Beyond the obvious increase in scope, knowledge, and vocabulary, there is no built-in data generator that feeds the hungry learning machine (sans an unlikely concerted effort to aggregate the data silos from multiple businesses). The jury is out whether the army of human agents that Project M employs can scale, even with Facebook’s kind of resources. In addition, cross-domain agents will probably need major advances in areas such as domain adaptation, transfer learning, dialog planning and management, reinforcement/apprenticeship learning, automatic dialog evaluation, etc.
Most chatbots try to mimic human interactions, which can frustrate users when a misunderstanding arises. Watson Assistant is more. It knows when to search for an answer from a knowledge base, when to ask for clarity, and when to direct you to a human. Watson Assistant can run on any cloud – allowing businesses to bring AI to their data and apps wherever they are.
There are various search engines for bots, such as Chatbottle, Botlist and Thereisabotforthat, for example, helping developers to inform users about the launch of new talkbots. These sites also provide a ranking of bots by various parameters: the number of votes, user statistics, platforms, categories (travel, productivity, social interaction, e-commerce, entertainment, news, etc.). They feature more than three and a half thousand bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and Kik.
Kik Messenger, which has 275 million registered users, recently announced a bot store. This includes one bot to send people Vine videos and another for getting makeup suggestions from Sephora. Twitter has had bots for years, like this bot that tweets about earthquakes as soon as they’re registered or a Domino’s bot that allows you to order a pizza by tweeting a pizza emoji.
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:
I would like to extend an invitation to business leaders facing similar challenges to IoT Exchange in Sydney on 23-24 July 2019. It’s a great opportunity to engage in stimulating discussions with IBM staff, business partners and customers, and to network with your peers. You’ll participate in two full days of learning about new technologies through 40 information packed sessions. ...read more
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".