It's fair to say that I'm pretty obsessed with chatbots right now. There are some great applications popping up from brands that genuinely add value to the end consumer, and early signs are showing that consumers are actually responding really well to them. For those of you who aren't quite sure what I'm talking about, here's a quick overview of what a chatbot is:

Artificial neural networks, invented in the 1940’s, are a way of calculating an output from an input (a classification) using weighted connections (“synapses”) that are calculated from repeated iterations through training data. Each pass through the training data alters the weights such that the neural network produces the output with greater “accuracy” (lower error rate).

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.
1-800-Flowers’ 2017 first quarter results showed total revenues had increased 6.3 percent to $165.8 million, with the Company’s Gourmet Food and Gift Baskets business as a significant contributor. CEO Chris McCann stated, “…our Fannie May business recorded positive same store sales as well as solid eCommerce growth, reflecting the success of the initiatives we have implemented to enhance its performance.” While McCann doesn’t go into specifics, we assume that initiatives include the implementation of GWYN, which also seems to be supported by CB Insights’ finding: 70% of customers ordering through the chat bot were new 1-800-Flowers customers as of June 2016.

Utility bots solve a user's problem, whatever that may be, via a user-prompted transaction. The most obvious example is a shopping bot, such as one that helps you order flowers or buy a new jacket. According to a recent HubSpot Research study, 47% of shoppers are open to buying items from a bot. But utility bots are not limited to making purchases. A utility bot could automatically book meetings by scanning your emails or notify you of the payment subscriptions you forgot you were signed up for.


[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.
The most advanced bots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It's as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
Chatbots currently operate through a number of channels, including web, within apps, and on messaging platforms. They also work across the spectrum from digital commerce to banking using bots for research, lead generation, and brand awareness. An increasing amount of businesses are experimenting with chatbots for e-commerce, customer service, and content delivery.
Designing for conversational interfaces represents a big shift in the way we are used to thinking about interaction. Chatbots have less signifiers and affordances than websites and apps – which means words have to work harder to deliver clarity, cohesion and utility for the user. It is a change of paradigm that requires designers to re-wire their brain, their deliverables and their design process to create successful bot experiences.
Amazon’s Echo device has been a surprise hit, reaching over 3M units sold in less than 18 months. Although part of this success can be attributed to the massive awareness-building power of the Amazon.com homepage, the device receives positive reviews from customers and experts alike, and has even prompted Google to develop its own version of the same device, Google Home.

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.


It may be tempting to assume that users will navigate across dialogs, creating a dialog stack, and at some point will navigate back in the direction they came from, unstacking the dialogs one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
If you visit a Singapore government website in the near future, chances are you’ll be using a chatbot to access the services you need, as part of the country’s Smart Nation initiative. In Australia, Deakin University students now access campus services using its ‘Genie’ virtual assistant platform, made up of chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition and predictive analytics.
In sales, chatbots are being used to assist consumers shopping online, either by answering noncomplex product questions or providing helpful information that the consumer could later search for, including shipping price and availability. Chatbots are also used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. Once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, it will be transferred to a human service agent .
Reduce costs: The potential to reduce costs is one of the clearest benefits of using a chatbot. A chatbot can provide a new first line of support, supplement support during peak periods or offer an additional support option. In all of these cases, employing a chatbot can help reduce the number of users who need to speak with a human. You can avoid scaling up your staff or offering human support around the clock.
For designing a chatbot conversation, you can refer this blog — “How to design a conversation for chatbots.” Chatbot interactions are segmented into structured and unstructured interactions. As the name suggests, the structured type is more about the logical flow of information, including menus, choices, and forms into account. The unstructured conversation flow includes freestyle plain text. Conversations with family, colleagues, friends and other acquaintances fall into this segment. Developing scripts for these messages will follow suit. While developing the script for messages, it is important to keep the conversation topics close to the purpose served by the chatbot. For the designer, interpreting user answers is important to develop scripts for a conversational user interface. The designer also turns their attention to close-ended conversations that are easy to handle and open-ended conversations that allow customers to communicate naturally.
Companies use internet bots to increase online engagement and streamline communication. Companies often use bots to cut down on cost, instead of employing people to communicate with consumers, companies have developed new ways to be efficient. These chatbots are used to answer customers' questions. For example, Domino's has developed a chatbot that can take orders via Facebook Messenger. Chatbots allow companies to allocate their employees' time to more important things.[10]

In 1950, Alan Turing's famous article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" was published, which proposed what is now called the Turing test as a criterion of intelligence. This criterion depends on the ability of a computer program to impersonate a human in a real-time written conversation with a human judge, sufficiently well that the judge is unable to distinguish reliably—on the basis of the conversational content alone—between the program and a real human. The notoriety of Turing's proposed test stimulated great interest in Joseph Weizenbaum's program ELIZA, published in 1966, which seemed to be able to fool users into believing that they were conversing with a real human. However Weizenbaum himself did not claim that ELIZA was genuinely intelligent, and the Introduction to his paper presented it more as a debunking exercise:

Beyond users, bots must also please the messaging apps themselves. Take Facebook Messenger. Executives have confirmed that advertisements within Discover — their hub for finding new bots to engage with — will be the main way Messenger monetizes its 1.3 billion monthly active users. If standing out among the 100,000 other bots on the platform wasn't difficult enough, we can assume Messenger will only feature bots that don't detract people from the platform.
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.

Earlier, I made a rather lazy joke with a reference to the Terminator movie franchise, in which an artificial intelligence system known as Skynet becomes self-aware and identifies the human race as the greatest threat to its own survival, triggering a global nuclear war by preemptively launching the missiles under its command at cities around the world. (If by some miracle you haven’t seen any of the Terminator movies, the first two are excellent but I’d strongly advise steering clear of later entries in the franchise.)
The NLP system has a wide and varied lexicon to better understand the complexities of natural language. Using an algorithmic process, it determines what has been asked and uses decision trees or slot-based algorithms that go through a predefined conversation path. After it understands the question, the computer then finds the best answer and provides it in the natural language of the user.

Cheyer explains Viv like this. Imagine you need to pick up a bottle of wine that goes well with lasagna on the way to your brother's house. If you wanted to do that yourself, you'd need to determine which wine goes well with lasagna (search #1) then find a wine store that carries it (search #2) that is on the way to your brother's house (search #3). Once you have that figured out, you have to calculate what time you need to leave to stop at the wine store on the way (search #4) and still make it to his house on time.
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.

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.
Interestingly, the as-yet unnamed conversational agent is currently an open-source project, meaning that anyone can contribute to the development of the bot’s codebase. The project is still in its earlier stages, but has great potential to help scientists, researchers, and care teams better understand how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain. A Russian version of the bot is already available, and an English version is expected at some point this year.

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.

Chatbots can perform a range of simple transactions. Telegram bots let users transfer money, buy train tickets, book hotel rooms, and more. AI chatbots are especially sought-after in the retail industry. WholeFoods, a healthy food store chain in the US, uses a chatbot to help customers find the nearest store. The 1-800-Flowers chatbot lets customers order flowers and gifts. In the image below, you can see more ways you might use AI chatbots for your business.

For example, say you want to purchase a pair of shoes online from Nordstrom. You would have to browse their site and look around until you find the pair you wanted. Then you would add the pair to your cart to go through the motions of checking out. But in the case Nordstrom had a conversational bot, you would simply tell the bot what you’re looking for and get an instant answer. You would be able to search within an interface that actually learns what you like, even when you can’t coherently articulate it. And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll even have similar experiences when we visit the retail stores.


If a text-sending algorithm can pass itself off as a human instead of a chatbot, its message would be more credible. Therefore, human-seeming chatbots with well-crafted online identities could start scattering fake news that seem plausible, for instance making false claims during a presidential election. With enough chatbots, it might be even possible to achieve artificial social proof.[58][59]
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