I know what you’re thinking – when will the world of marketing just stand still for a moment and let us all catch up?!?! No such luck, dear readers. No sooner have we all gotten to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to start building live video campaigns into our content marketing strategies, something else comes along that promises to be the next game-changer. And so here we are with the most recent marketing phenomenon – chatbots.
It’s best to have very specific intents, so that you’re clear what your user wants to do, but to have broad entities – so that the intent can apply in many places. For example, changing a password is a common activity (a narrow intent), where you change your password might be many different places (broad entities). The context then personalises the conversation based on what it knows about the user, what they’re trying to achieve, and where they’re trying to do that.
WeChat combines a chat-based interface with vast library of add-on features such as a mobile wallet, chat-based transactions, and chat-based media and interactive widgets, and exposes it all to businesses through a powerful API that enables businesses from mom and pop noodle shops to powerhouses such as Nike and Burberry to “friend” their customers and market to them in never before imaginable ways. Over 10MM businesses in China have WeChat accounts, and it is becoming increasingly popular for small businesses to only have a WeChat account, forgoing developing their own website or mobile app completely. US technology firms, in particular Facebook, are taking note.
In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.
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. uses 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.
At a high level, a conversational bot can be divided into the bot functionality (the "brain") and a set of surrounding requirements (the "body"). The brain includes the domain-aware components, including the bot logic and ML capabilities. Other components are domain agnostic and address non-functional requirements such as CI/CD, quality assurance, and security.
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.