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.

Why are chatbots important? A chatbot is often described as one of the most advanced and promising expressions of interaction between humans and machines. However, from a technological point of view, a chatbot only represents the natural evolution of a Question Answering system leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP). Formulating responses to questions in natural language is one of the most typical Examples of Natural Language Processing applied in various enterprises’ end-use applications.

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.

Logging. Log user conversations with the bot, including the underlying performance metrics and any errors. These logs will prove invaluable for debugging issues, understanding user interactions, and improving the system. Different data stores might be appropriate for different types of logs. For example, consider Application Insights for web logs, Cosmos DB for conversations, and Azure Storage for large payloads. See Write directly to Azure Storage.

In a procedural conversation flow, you define the order of the questions and the bot will ask the questions in the order you defined. You can organize the questions into logical modules to keep the code centralized while staying focused on guiding the conversational. For example, you may design one module to contain the logic that helps the user browse for products and a separate module to contain the logic that helps the user create a new order.
Typically, companies applied a passive engagement method with consumers. In other words, customer support only responds to complaining consumers – but never initiate any conversations or look for feedback. While this method was fine for a long while, it doesn’t work anymore with millennials. Users want to communicate with attentive brands who have a 24/7 support system and they won’t settle for anything less.
3. Now, since ours is a conversational AI bot, we need to keep track of the conversations happened thus far, to predict an appropriate response. For this purpose, we need a dictionary object that can be persisted with information about the current intent, current entities, persisted information that user would have provided to bot’s previous questions, bot’s previous action, results of the API call (if any). This information will constitute our input X, the feature vector. The target y, that the dialogue model is going to be trained upon will be ‘next_action’ (The next_action can simply be a one-hot encoded vector corresponding to each actions that we define in our training data).
Once your bot is running in production, you will need a DevOps team to keep it that way. Continually monitor the system to ensure the bot operates at peak performance. Use the logs sent to Application Insights or Cosmos DB to create monitoring dashboards, either using Application Insights itself, Power BI, or a custom web app dashboard. Send alerts to the DevOps team if critical errors occur or performance falls below an acceptable threshold.
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.
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.
Chatbots can have varying levels of complexity and can be stateless or stateful. A stateless chatbot approaches each conversation as if it was interacting with a new user. In contrast, a stateful chatbot is able to review past interactions and frame new responses in context. Adding a chatbot to a company's service or sales department requires low or no coding; today, a number of chatbot service providers that allow developers to build conversational user interfaces for third-party business applications.
There is a general worry that the bot can’t understand the intent of the customer. The bots are first trained with the actual data. Most companies that already have a chatbot must be having logs of conversations. Developers use that logs to analyze what customers are trying to ask and what does that mean. With a combination of Machine Learning models and tools built, developers match questions that customer asks and answers with the best suitable answer. For example: If a customer is asking “Where is my payment receipt?” and “I have not received a payment receipt”, mean the same thing. Developers strength is in training the models so that the chatbot is able to connect both of those questions to correct intent and as an output produces the correct answer. If there is no extensive data available, different APIs data can be used to train the chatbot.

You can structure these modules to flow in any way you like, ranging from free form to sequential. The Bot Framework SDK provides several libraries that allows you to construct any conversational flow your bot needs. For example, the prompts library allows you to ask users for input, the waterfall library allows you to define a sequence of question/answer pair, the dialog control library allows you to modularized your conversational flow logic, etc. All of these libraries are tied together through a dialogs object. Let's take a closer look at how modules are implemented as dialogs to design and manage conversation flows and see how that flow is similar to the traditional application flow.
Although NBC Politics Bot was a little rudimentary in terms of its interactions, this particular application of chatbot technology could well become a lot more popular in the coming years – particularly as audiences struggle to keep up with the enormous volume of news content being published every day. The bot also helped NBC determine what content most resonated with users, which the network will use to further tailor and refine its content to users in the future.
A chatbot works in a couple of ways: set guidelines and machine learning. A chatbot that functions with a set of guidelines in place is limited in its conversation. It can only respond to a set number of requests and vocabulary, and is only as intelligent as its programming code. An example of a limited bot is an automated banking bot that asks the caller some questions to understand what the caller wants done. The bot would make a command like “Please tell me what I can do for you by saying account balances, account transfer, or bill payment.” If the customer responds with "credit card balance," the bot would not understand the request and would proceed to either repeat the command or transfer the caller to a human assistant.
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.

Canadian and US insurers have a lot on their plates this year.  They’re not just grappling with extreme weather, substantial underwriting losses from all those motor vehicle claims, but also rising customer expectations and an onslaught of fintech disruptors.  These disruptors are spurring lots of activity in insurance digital labs, insurance venture capital arms, and […]
It didn’t take long, however, for Turing’s headaches to begin. The BabyQ bot drew the ire of Chinese officials by speaking ill of the Communist Party. In the exchange seen in the screenshot above, one user commented, “Long Live the Communist Party!” In response, BabyQ asked the user, “Do you think that such a corrupt and incompetent political regime can live forever?”
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.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots that it launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers, through which it can actively manage bot interactions.
Forrester Launches New Survey On AI Adoption There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is top of mind for executives. AI adoption started in earnest in 2016, and Forrester anticipates AI investments to continue to increase. Leaders are quickly waking up to AI’s disruptive characteristics and the need to embrace this emerging technology to remain […]
Chatbots – also known as “conversational agents” – are software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person. There are two primary ways chatbots are offered to visitors: via web-based applications or standalone apps. Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps.
The chatbot must rely on spoken or written communications to discover what the shopper or user wants and is limited to the messaging platform’s capabilities when it comes to responding to the shopper or user. This requires a much better understanding of natural language and intent. It also means that developers must write connections to several different platforms, again like Messenger or Slack, if the chatbot is to have the same potential reach as a website.
While messaging and voice interfaces are central components, they fit into a larger picture of increasing infusion of technology into our daily lives, which in turn is unlocking new potential for brand-to-consumer interaction. The fact is, technology overall is becoming more deeply woven into our lives, and the entire ecosystem is enjoying tighter cohesion through the increasing availability and sophistication of APIs. Smart companies are finding new and innovative touch points with consumers that are contextual, relevant, highly personal, and yes, conversational. Commerce is becoming not only more conversational but more ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into our lives, and the way we interact with brands will be forever changed as a result.
Your bot can use other AI services to further enrich the user experience. The Cognitive Services suite of pre-built AI services (which includes LUIS and QnA Maker) has services for vision, speech, language, search, and location. You can quickly add functionality such as language translation, spell checking, sentiment analysis, OCR, location awareness, and content moderation. These services can be wired up as middleware modules in your bot to interact more naturally and intelligently with the user.

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.
There is a general worry that the bot can’t understand the intent of the customer. The bots are first trained with the actual data. Most companies that already have a chatbot must be having logs of conversations. Developers use that logs to analyze what customers are trying to ask and what does that mean. With a combination of Machine Learning models and tools built, developers match questions that customer asks and answers with the best suitable answer. For example: If a customer is asking “Where is my payment receipt?” and “I have not received a payment receipt”, mean the same thing. Developers strength is in training the models so that the chatbot is able to connect both of those questions to correct intent and as an output produces the correct answer. If there is no extensive data available, different APIs data can be used to train the chatbot.
In a traditional application, the user interface (UI) consists of a series of screens, and a single app or website can use one or more screens as needed to exchange information with the user. Most applications start with a main screen where users initially land, and that screen provides navigation that leads to other screens for various functions like starting a new order, browsing products, or looking for help.
With competitor Venmo already established, peer-to-peer payments is not in and of itself a compelling feature for Snapchat. However, adding wallet functionality and payment methods to the app does lay the groundwork for Snapchat to delve directly into commerce. The messaging app’s commerce strategy became more clear in April 2016 with its launch of shoppable stories with select partners in its Discover section. For the first time, while viewing video stories from Target and Lancome, users were able to “swipe up” to visit an e-commerce page embedded within the Snapchat app where they could purchase products from those partners.
With last year’s refresh of AppleTV, Apple brought its Siri voice assistant to the center of the UI. You can now ask Siri to play your favorite TV shows, check the weather, search for and buy specific types of movies, and a variety of other specific tasks. Although far behind Amazon’s Echo in terms of breadth of functionality, Apple will no doubt expand Siri’s integration into AppleTV, and its likely that the company will introduce a new version of AppleTV that more directly competes with the Echo, perhaps with a voice remote control that is always listening for commands.
[In] artificial intelligence ... machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained ... its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures ... The observer says to himself "I could have written that". With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked "intelligent", to that reserved for curios ... The object of this paper is to cause just such a re-evaluation of the program about to be "explained". Few programs ever needed it more.

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.


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Forrester just released a new report on mobile and new technology priorities for marketers, based on our latest global mobile executive survey. We found out that marketers: Fail to deliver on foundational mobile experiences. Consumers’ expectations of a brand’s mobile experience have never been higher. And yet, 58% of marketers agree that their mobile services […]
Spot is a chatbot developed by Criminal Psychologist Julia Shaw at the University College London. Using memory science and AI, Spot doesn’t just allow users to report workplace harassment and bullying, but is capable of asking personalized, open-ended questions to help you recall details about events that made you feel uncomfortable. The application helps users process what happened, to understand whether or not they experienced harassment or discrimination and offers advice on how they can take matters further.
Despite the fact that ALICE relies on such an old codebase, the bot offers users a remarkably accurate conversational experience. Of course, no bot is perfect, especially one that’s old enough to legally drink in the U.S. if only it had a physical form. ALICE, like many contemporary bots, struggles with the nuances of some questions and returns a mixture of inadvertently postmodern answers and statements that suggest ALICE has greater self-awareness for which we might give the agent credit.
Ultimately, only time will tell how effective the likes of Facebook Messenger will become in the long term. As more and more companies look to use chatbots within the platform, the greater the frequency of messages that individual users will receive. This could result in Facebook (and other messaging platforms) placing stricter restrictions on usage, but until then I'd recommend testing as much as possible.
A chatbot (sometimes referred to as a chatterbot) is programming that simulates the conversation or "chatter" of a human being through text or voice interactions. Chatbot virtual assistants are increasingly being used to handle simple, look-up tasks in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) environments. The addition of chatbot assistants not only reduces overhead costs by making better use of support staff time, it also allows companies to provide a level of customer service during hours when live agents aren't available.
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