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.

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:
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.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock.com, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave.[31] Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app.[32] In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly.[33] These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.
Through Knowledge Graph, Google search has already become amazingly good at understanding the context and meaning of your queries, and it is getting better at natural language queries. With its massive scale in data and years of working at the very hard problems of natural language processing, the company has a clear path to making Allo’s conversational commerce capabilities second to none.
Of course, it is not so simple to create an interactive agent that the user will really trust. That’s why IM bots have not replaced all the couriers, doctors and the author of these lines. In this article, instead of talking about the future of chatbots, we will give you a short excursion into the topic of chatbots, how they work, how they can be employed and how difficult it is to create one yourself.

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.
Message generator component consists of several user defined templates (templates are nothing but sentences with some placeholders, as appropriate) that map to the action names. So depending on the action predicted by the dialogue manager, the respective template message is invoked. If the template requires some placeholder values to be filled up, those values are also passed by the dialogue manager to the generator. Then the appropriate message is displayed to the user and the bot goes into a wait mode listening for the user input.
Back in April, National Geographic launched a Facebook Messenger bot to promote their new show about the theoretical physicist's work and personal life. Developed by 360i, the charismatic Einstein bot reintroduced audiences to the scientific figure in a more intimate setting, inviting them to learn about the lesser-known aspects of his life through a friendly, natural conversation with the man himself.
If your interaction with a conversational bot is through a specific menu (where you interact through buttons but the bot does not understand natural language input), chances are you are talking to a bot with structured questions and responses. This type of bot is usually applied on messenger platforms for marketing purposes. They are great at conducting surveys, generating leads, and sending daily content pieces or newsletters.
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.
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.)
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:

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.
NanoRep is a customer service bot that guides customers throughout their entire journey. It handles any issues that may arise no matter if a customer wants to book a flight or track an order. NanoRep isn’t limited to predefined scripts, unlike many other customer service chatbots. And it delivers context-based answers. Its Contextual-Answers solution lets the chatbot provide real-time responses based on:
AI, blockchain, chatbot, digital identity, etc. — there’s enough emerging technology in financial services to fill a whole alphabet book. And it’s difficult not to get swept off your feet by visions of bionic men, self-executing smart contracts, and virtual assistants that anticipate our every need. Investing in emerging technology is one of the main […]
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.

Poor user experience. The bottom line: chatbots frustrate your customers if you are viewing them as a replacement for humans. Do not ever, ever try to pass of a chatbot as a human. If your chatbot suffers from any of the issues above, you’re probably creating a poor customer experience overall and an angry phone call to a poor unsuspecting call center rep.
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.
Note — If the plan is to build the sample conversations from the scratch, then one recommended way is to use an approach called interactive learning. We will not go into the details of the interactive learning here, but to put it in simple terms and as the name suggests, it is a user interface application that will prompt the user to input the user request and then the dialogue manager model will come up with its top choices for predicting the best next_action, prompting the user again to confirm on its priority of learned choices. The model uses this feedback to refine its predictions for next time (This is like a reinforcement learning technique wherein the model is rewarded for its correct predictions).

In the early 90’s, the Turing test, which allows determining the possibility of thinking by computers, was developed. It consists in the following. A person talks to both the person and the computer. The goal is to find out who his interlocutor is — a person or a machine. This test is carried out in our days and many conversational programs have coped with it successfully.

How far are we from building systems with commonsense? One often-heard answer is: not in the near future, while the realistic answer is: we don’t know. Last year, I spent some time trying to build a system that can do better than an information retrieval baseline in taking fourth-grade science exam (which still has a ways to go to gain a passing score of 65%). I failed hard. Here’s an example to get a sense of the difficulty of these questions.
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.
Expecting your customer care team to be able to answer every single inquiry on your social media profiles is not only unrealistic, but also extremely time-consuming, and therefore, expensive. With a chatbot, you're making yourself available to consumers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Aside from saving you money, chatbots will help you keep your social media presence fresh and active.
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.

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.
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.
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.
This importance is reinforced by Jacqueline Payne, Customer Support Manager at Paperclip Digital, who says ‘Customer service isn’t a buzzword. But too many businesses treat it like it is. As a viable avenue from which to lower customer acquisition costs and cultivate a loyal customer base, chat bots can play a pivotal role in driving business growth.’
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.

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.
Like apps and websites, bots have a UI, but it is made up of dialogs, rather than screens. Dialogs help preserve your place within a conversation, prompt users when needed, and execute input validation. They are useful for managing multi-turn conversations and simple "forms-based" collections of information to accomplish activities such as booking a flight.
On the other hand, early adoption can be somewhat of a curse. In 2011, many companies and individuals, myself included, invested a lot of time and money into Google+, dubbed to be bigger than Facebook at the time. They acquired over 10 million new users within the first two weeks of launch and things were looking positive. Many companies doubled-down on growing a community within the platform, hopeful of using it as a new and growing acquisition channel, but things didn't exactly pan out that way.
"From Russia With Love" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-12-09. Psychologist and Scientific American: Mind contributing editor Robert Epstein reports how he was initially fooled by a chatterbot posing as an attractive girl in a personal ad he answered on a dating website. In the ad, the girl portrayed herself as being in Southern California and then soon revealed, in poor English, that she was actually in Russia. He became suspicious after a couple of months of email exchanges, sent her an email test of gibberish, and she still replied in general terms. The dating website is not named. Scientific American: Mind, October–November 2007, page 16–17, "From Russia With Love: How I got fooled (and somewhat humiliated) by a computer". Also available online.
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