This kind of thinking has lead me to develop a bot where the focus is as a medium for content rather than a subsitute for intelligence. So users create content much as conventional author, (but with text stored in spreadsheets rather than anywhere else). Very little is expected from the bot in terms of human behavious such as “learning”, “empathy”, “memory” and character”. Does it work?
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.
Facebook has jumped fully on the conversational commerce bandwagon and is betting big that it can turn its popular Messenger app into a business messaging powerhouse. The company first integrated peer-to-peer payments into Messenger in 2015, and then launched a full chatbot API so businesses can create interactions for customers to occur within the Facebook Messenger app. You can order flowers from 1–800-Flowers, browse the latest fashion and make purchases from Spring, and order an Uber, all from within a Messenger chat.
A chatbot that functions through machine learning has an artificial neural network inspired by the neural nodes of the human brain. The bot is programmed to self-learn as it is introduced to new dialogues and words. In effect, as a chatbot receives new voice or textual dialogues, the number of inquiries that it can reply and the accuracy of each response it gives increases. Facebook has a machine learning chatbot that creates a platform for companies to interact with their consumers through the Facebook Messenger application. Using the Messenger bot, users can buy shoes from Spring, order a ride from Uber, and have election conversations with the New York Times which used the Messenger bot to cover the 2016 presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. If a user asked the New York Times through his/her app a question like “What’s new today?” or “What do the polls say?” the bot would reply to the request.
All of these conversational technologies employ natural-language-recognition capabilities to discern what the user is saying, and other sophisticated intelligence tools to determine what he or she truly needs to know. These technologies are beginning to use machine learning to learn from interactions and improve the resulting recommendations and responses.
Another option is to integrate your own custom AI service. This approach is more complex, but gives you complete flexibility in terms of the machine learning algorithm, training, and model. For example, you could implement your own topic modeling and use algorithm such as LDA to find similar or relevant documents. A good approach is to expose your custom AI solution as a web service endpoint, and call the endpoint from the core bot logic. The web service could be hosted in App Service or in a cluster of VMs. Azure Machine Learning provides a number of services and libraries to assist you in training and deploying your models.
“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
But, as any human knows, no question or statement in a conversation really has a limited number of potential responses. There is an infinite number of ways to combine the finite number of words in a human language to say something. Real conversation requires creativity, spontaneity, and inference. Right now, those traits are still the realm of humans alone. There is still a gamut of work to finish in order to make bots as person-centric as Rogerian therapists, but bots and their creators are getting closer every day.
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.
Students from different backgrounds can share their views and perspectives on a specific matter while a chatbot can still adapt to each one of them individually. Chatbots can improve engagement among students and encourage interaction with the rest of the class by assigning group work and projects - similarly to what teachers usually do in regular classes.
As I tinker with dialog systems at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, primarily by prototyping Alexa skills, I often wonder what AI is still lacking to build good conversational systems, punting the social challenge to another day. This post is my take on where AI has a good chance to improve and consequently, what we can expect from the next wave of conversational systems.
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 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.