The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).
In this article, we shed a spotlight on 7 real-world chatbots/virtual assistants across industries that are in action and reaping value for their parent companies. From streamlined operations and saved human productivity to increased customer engagement, the following examples are worth a read if you’ve ever considered leveraging chatbot technology for your business (or are curious about the possibilities).
A chatbot (also known as a talkbots, chatterbot, Bot, IM bot, interactive agent, or Artificial Conversational Entity) is a computer program or an artificial intelligence which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, thereby passing the Turing test. Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatterbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler systems scan for keywords within the input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database.
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.
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The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
In business-to-business environments, chatbots are commonly scripted and used to respond to frequently asked questions or perform simple, repetitive calls to action. In sales, for example, a chatbot may be a quick way for sales reps to get phone numbers. Chatbots can also be used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. For example, a service rep might provide the chatbot with an order number and ask when the order was shipped. Generally, once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, the call or text window will be transferred to a human service agent.
In so many ways I think chatbots are only just getting started – their potential is much underestimated at present. A big challenge is for chatbots mature so that they do more than is possible as a result of content entry wizards. If your content is created with a few easy clicks, it is unlikely to be much inspiration to anyone – and to date, despite much work in the field, the ability to emulated the creative open ended nature of real intellingence has seen only very partial success.
Now, with the rise of website chatbots, this trend of two-way conversations can be taken to a whole new level. Conversational marketing can be done across many channels, such as over the phone or via SMS. However, an increasing number of companies are leveraging social media to drive their conversational marketing strategy to distinguish their brand and solidify their brand’s voice and values. When most people refer to conversational marketing, they’re talking about interactions started using chatbots and live chat – that move to personal conversations.
Some brands already seem to be getting the balance right. A bot needs to capture a user's attention quickly and display a healthy curiosity about their new acquaintance, but too much curiosity can easily push them into creepy territory and turn people off. They have to display more than a basic knowledge of human conversational patterns, but they can't claim to be an actual human -- again, let's keep things from getting too creepy here.
In a bot, everything begins with the root dialog. The root dialog invokes the new order dialog. At that point, the new order dialog takes control of the conversation and remains in control until it either closes or invokes other dialogs, such as the product search dialog. If the new order dialog closes, control of the conversation is returned back to the root dialog.
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.
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.
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.
These are just a few of the most inspirational chatbot startups from the last year, with numerous others around the globe currently receiving acclaim for how quickly and innovatively they are using AI to change the world. With development becoming more intuitive and accessible to people all over the world, we can expect to see more startups using new technology to solve old problems.
Speaking ahead of the Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney, Magnus Revang, research director at Gartner, said the broad appeal of chatbots stems from the efficiency and ease of interaction they create for employees, customers or other users. The potential benefits are significant for enterprises and shouldn’t be ignored.
Build a bot directly from one of the top messaging apps themselves. By building a bot in Telegram, you can easily run a bot in the application itself. The company recently open-sourced their chatbot code, making it easy for third-parties to integrate and create bots of their own. Their Telegram API, which they also built, can send customized notifications, news, reminders, or alerts. Integrate the API with other popular apps such as YouTube and Github for a unique customer experience.
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.