You may remember Facebook’s big chatbot push in 2016 – when they announced that they were opening up the Messenger platform to chatbots of all varieties. Every organization suddenly needed to get their hands on the technology. The idea of having conversational chatbot technology was enthralling, but behind all the glitz, glamour and tech sex appeal, was something a little bit less exciting. To quote Gizmodo writer, Darren Orf:
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.
2017 was the year that AI and chatbots took off in business, not just in developed nations, but across the whole world. Sage have reported that this global trend is boosting international collaboration between startups across all continents, such as the European Commission-backed Startup Europe Comes to Africa (SEC2A) which was held in November 2017.
Unfortunately, my mom can’t really engage in meaningful conversations anymore, but many people suffering with dementia retain much of their conversational abilities as their illness progresses. However, the shame and frustration that many dementia sufferers experience often make routine, everyday talks with even close family members challenging. That’s why Russian technology company Endurance developed its companion chatbot.
The promise of artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated across the enterprise giving hopes of amping up automation, enriching insights, streamlining processes, augmenting workers, and in many ways making our lives as consumers, employees, and customers a whole lot better. Senior management salivates over the exponential gains AI is supposed to deliver to their business. Kumbayah […]
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.
It won’t be an easy march though once we get to the nitty-gritty details. For example, I heard through the grapevine that when Starbucks looked at the voice data they collected from customer orders, they found that there are a few millions unique ways to order. (For those in the field, I’m talking about unique user utterances.) This is to be expected given the wild combinations of latte vs mocha, dairy vs soy, grande vs trenta, extra-hot vs iced, room vs no-room, for here vs to-go, snack variety, spoken accent diversity, etc. The AI practitioner will soon curse all these dimensions before taking a deep learning breath and getting to work. I feel though that given practically unlimited data, deep learning is now good enough to overcome this problem, and it is only a matter of couple of years until we see these TODA solutions deployed. One technique to watch is Generative Adversarial Nets (GAN). Roughly speaking, GAN engages itself in an iterative game of counterfeiting real stuffs, getting caught by the police neural network, improving counterfeiting skill, and rinse-and-repeating until it can pass as your Starbucks’ order-taking person, given enough data and iterations.
There is a general worry that the bot can’t understand the intent of the customer. The bots are first trained with the actual data. Most companies that already have a chatbot must be having logs of conversations. Developers use that logs to analyze what customers are trying to ask and what does that mean. With a combination of Machine Learning models and tools built, developers match questions that customer asks and answers with the best suitable answer. For example: If a customer is asking “Where is my payment receipt?” and “I have not received a payment receipt”, mean the same thing. Developers strength is in training the models so that the chatbot is able to connect both of those questions to correct intent and as an output produces the correct answer. If there is no extensive data available, different APIs data can be used to train the chatbot.
Your first question is how much of it does she want? 1 litre? 500ml? 200? She tells you she wants a 1 litre Tropicana 100% Orange Juice. Now you know that regular Tropicana is easily available, but 100% is hard to come by, so you call up a few stores beforehand to see where it’s available. You find one store that’s pretty close by, so you go back to your mother and tell her you found what she wanted. It’s $3 and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
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There are a bunch of e-commerce stores taking advantage of chatbots as well. One example that I was playing with was from Fynd that enables you to ask for specific products and they'll display them to you directly within Messenger. What's more, Facebook even allows you to make payments via Messenger bots, opening up a whole world of possibility to e-commerce stores.
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
Simply put, chatbots are computer programs designed to have conversations with human users. Chances are you’ve interacted with one. They answer questions, guide you through a purchase, provide technical support, and can even teach you a new language. You can find them on devices, websites, text messages, and messaging apps—in other words, they’re everywhere.
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.
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.
H&M’s consistent increased sales over the past year and its August announcement to launch an eCommerce presence in Canada and South Korea during the fall of 2016, along with 11 new H&M online markets (for a total of 35 markets by the end of the year), appear to signify positive results for its chatbot implementation (though direct correlations are unavailable on its website).
Online chatbots save time and efforts by automating customer support. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, over 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human. However, the opportunites provided by chatbot systems go far beyond giving responses to customers’ inquiries. They are also used for other business tasks, like collecting information about users, helping to organize meetings and reducing overhead costs. There is no wonder that size of the chatbot market is growing exponentially.
The process of building, testing and deploying chatbots can be done on cloud based chatbot development platforms offered by cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers such as Yekaliva, Oracle Cloud Platform, SnatchBot and IBM Watson.   These cloud platforms provide Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Backend as a Service for chatbot development.
Several studies accomplished by analytics agencies such as Juniper or Gartner  report significant reduction of cost of customer services, leading to billions of dollars of economy in the next 10 years. Gartner predicts an integration by 2020 of chatbots in at least 85% of all client's applications to customer service. Juniper's study announces an impressive amount of $8 billion retained annually by 2022 due to the use of chatbots.