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 other words, bots solve the thing we loathed about apps in the first place. You don't have to download something you'll never use again. It's been said most people stick to five apps. Those holy grail spots? They're increasingly being claimed by messaging apps. Today, messaging apps have over 5 billion monthly active users, and for the first time, people are using them more than social networks.
Through our preview journey in the past two years, we have learned a lot from interacting with thousands of customers undergoing digital transformation. We highlighted some of our customer stories (such as UPS, Equadex, and more) in our general availability announcement. This post covers conversational AI in a nutshell using Azure Bot Service and LUIS, what we’ve learned so far, and dive into the new capabilities. We will also show how easy it is to get started in building a conversational bot with natural language.
As AOL's David Shingy writes in Adweek, "The challenge [with chatbots] will be thinking about creative from a whole different view: Can we have creative that scales? That customizes itself? We find ourselves hurtling toward another handoff from man to machine -- what larger system of creative or complex storytelling structure can I design such that a machine can use it appropriately and effectively?"
The evolution of artificial intelligence is now in full swing and chatbots are only a faint splash on a huge wave of progress. Today the number of users of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, Skype and their analogs is skyrocketing, Facebook Messenger alone has more than 1.2 billion monthly users. With the spread of messengers, virtual chatterbots that imitate human conversations for solving various tasks are becoming increasingly in demand. Chinese WeChat bots can already set medical appointments, call a taxi, send money to friends, check in for a flight and many many other.
ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
"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.
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.
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.
These days, checking the headlines over morning coffee is as much about figuring out if we should be hunkering down in the basement preparing for imminent nuclear annihilation as it is about keeping up with the day’s headlines. Unfortunately, even the most diligent newshounds may find it difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise, which is why NBC launched its NBC Politics Bot on Facebook Messenger shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
To get started, you can build your bot online using the Azure Bot Service, selecting from the available C# and Node.js templates. As your bot gets more sophisticated, however, you will need to create your bot locally then deploy it to the web. Choose an IDE, such as Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code, and a programming language. SDKs are available for the following languages:
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 believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second. A lot of the dreamers are science fiction authors, they’re artists…They invent these ideas, and they get catalogued as impossible. And we find out later, well, maybe it’s not impossible. Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.”
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.