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.
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 either 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.[2] [3] 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.[4]
Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations says: “I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t think we’re going to see this mass exodus of people stopping building apps and going to build bots. I think they’re going to build bots in addition to the app that they have or the service they provide,” as reported by re/code.
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.
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.
Chatfuel is a platform that lets you build your own Chatbot for Messenger (and Telegram) for free. The only limit is if you pass more than 100,000 conversations per month, but for most businesses that won't be an issue. No understanding of code is required and it has a simple drag-and-drop interface. Think Wix/Squarespace for bots (side note: I have zero affiliation with Chatfuel).

“Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.” — Aaron Batalion, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
Simple chatbots work based on pre-written keywords that they understand. Each of these commands must be written by the developer separately using regular expressions or other forms of string analysis. If the user has asked a question without using a single keyword, the robot can not understand it and, as a rule, responds with messages like “sorry, I did not understand”.
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.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.

User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
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.
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
Founded by Pavel Durov, creator of Russia’s equivalent to Facebook, Telegram launched in 2013 as a lightweight messaging app to combine the speed of WhatsApp with the ephemerality of Snapchat along with claimed enhanced privacy and security through its use of the MTProto protocol (Telegram has offered a $200k prize to any developer who can crack MTProto’s security). Telegram has 100M MAUs, putting it in the second tier of messaging apps in terms of popularity.

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.
Es gibt auch Chatbots, die gar nicht erst versuchen, wie ein menschlicher Chatter zu wirken (daher keine Chatterbots), sondern ähnlich wie IRC-Dienste nur auf spezielle Befehle reagieren. Sie können als Schnittstelle zu Diensten außerhalb des Chats dienen, oder auch Funktionen nur innerhalb ihres Chatraums anbieten, z. B. neu hinzugekommene Chatter mit dem Witz des Tages begrüßen.
The bot itself is only part of a larger system that provides it with the latest data and ensures its proper operation. All of these other Azure resources — data orchestration services such as Data Factory, storage services such as Cosmos DB, and so forth — must be deployed. Azure Resource Manager provides a consistent management layer that you can access through the Azure portal, PowerShell, or the Azure CLI. For speed and consistency, it's best to automate your deployment using one of these approaches.
In one particularly striking example of how this rather limited bot has made a major impact, U-Report sent a poll to users in Liberia about whether teachers were coercing students into sex in exchange for better grades. Approximately 86% of the 13,000 Liberian children U-Report polled responded that their teachers were engaged in this despicable practice, which resulted in a collaborative project between UNICEF and Liberia’s Minister of Education to put an end to it.
Chatbots can reply instantly to any questions. The waiting time is ‘virtually’ 0 (see what I did there?). Even if a real person eventually shows up to fix the issues, the customer gets engaged in the conversation, which can help you build trust. The problem could be better diagnosed, and the chatbot could perform some routine checks with the user. This saves up time for both the customer and the support agent. That’s a lot better than just recklessly waiting for a representative to arrive.

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 […]
Developed to assist Nigerian students preparing for their secondary school exam, the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), SimbiBot is a chatbot that uses past exam questions to help students prepare for a variety of subjects. It offers multiple choice quizzes to help students test their knowledge, shows them where they went wrong, and even offers tips and advice based on how well the student is progressing.
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.
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.
This kind of thinking has lead me to develop a bot where the focus is as a medium for content rather than a subsitute for intelligence. So users create content much as conventional author, (but with text stored in spreadsheets rather than anywhere else). Very little is expected from the bot in terms of human behavious such as “learning”, “empathy”, “memory” and character”. Does it work?
Operator calls itself a “request network” aiming to “unlock the 90% of commerce that’s not on the internet.” The Operator app, developed by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, connects you with a network of “operators” who act like concierges who can execute any shopping-related request. You can order concert tickets, get gift ideas, or even get interior design recommendations for new furniture. Operator seems to be positioning itself towards “high consideration” purchases, bigger ticket purchases requiring more research and expertise, where its operators can add significant value to a transaction.
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.
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.
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