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.
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
I've come across this challenge many times, which has made me very focused on adopting new channels that have potential at an early stage to reap the rewards. Just take video ads within Facebook as an example. We're currently at a point where video ads are reaching their peak; cost is still relatively low and engagement is high, but, like with most ad platforms, increased competition will drive up those prices and make it less and less viable for smaller companies (and larger ones) to invest in it.
Chatbots such as ELIZA and PARRY were early attempts at creating programs that could at least temporarily fool a real human being into thinking they were having a conversation with another person. PARRY's effectiveness was benchmarked in the early 1970s using a version of a Turing test; testers only made the correct identification of human vs. chatbot at a level consistent with making a random guess.
There are situations for chatbots, however, if you are able to recognize the limitations of chatbot technology. The real value from chatbots come from limited workflows such as a simple question and answer or trigger and action functionality, and that’s where the technology is really shining. People tend to want to find answers without the need to talk to a real person, so organizations are enabling their customers to seek help how they please. Mastercard allows users to check in with their accounts by messaging its respective bot. Whole Foods uses a chatbot for its customers to easily surface recipes, and Staples partnered with IBM to create a chatbot to answer general customer inquiries about orders, products and more.
The advancement in technology has opened gates for the innovative and efficient solutions to cater the needs of students by developing applications that can serve as a personalized learning resource. Moreover, these automated applications can potentially help instructors and teachers in saving up a lot of time by offering individual attention to each student.
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.
Even if it sounds crazy, chatbots might even challenge apps and websites! An app requires space, it has to be downloaded. Websites take time to load and most of them are pretty slow. A bot works instantly. You type something, it replies. Another great thing about them is that they bypass user interface and completely change how customers interact with your business. People will navigate your content by using their natural language.
Context: When a NLU algorithm analyzes a sentence, it does not have the history of the user conversation. It means that if it receives the answer to a question it has just asked, it will not remember the question. For differentiating the phases during the chat conversation, it’s state should be stored. It can either be flags like “Ordering Pizza” or parameters like “Restaurant: ‘Dominos’”. With context, you can easily relate intents with no need to know what was the previous question.
A chatbot (sometimes referred to as a chatterbot) is programming that simulates the conversation or "chatter" of a human being through text or voice interactions. Chatbot virtual assistants are increasingly being used to handle simple, look-up tasks in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) environments. The addition of chatbot assistants not only reduces overhead costs by making better use of support staff time, it also allows companies to provide a level of customer service during hours when live agents aren't available.
Niki is a personal assistant that has been developed in India to perform an impressively wide variety of tasks, including booking taxis, buses, hotels, movies and events, paying utilities and recharging your phone, and even organizing laundry pickup and delivery. The application has proven to be a huge success across India and won the Deep Tech prize at the 2017 AWS Mobility Awards.
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.