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.
One of the more talked about integrations has been Taco Bell‘s announcement that it is working on a Slackbot (appropriately named Tacobot) which will not only take your Gordita Supreme order but will do it with the same “witty personality you’d expect from Taco Bell.” Consumer demand for such a service remains to be seen, but it hints at the potential for brands to leverage Slack’s platform and growing audience.
It’s best to have very specific intents, so that you’re clear what your user wants to do, but to have broad entities – so that the intent can apply in many places. For example, changing a password is a common activity (a narrow intent), where you change your password might be many different places (broad entities). The context then personalises the conversation based on what it knows about the user, what they’re trying to achieve, and where they’re trying to do that.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots that it launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers, through which it can actively manage bot interactions.
Eventually, a single chatbot could become your own personal assistant to take care of everything, whether it's calling you an Uber or setting up a meeting. Or, Facebook Messenger or another platform might let a bunch of individual chatbots to talk to you about whatever is relevant — a chatbot from Southwest Airlines could tell you your flight's delayed, another chatbot from FedEx could tell you your package is on the way, and so on.
It’s not all doom and gloom for chatbots. Chatbots are a stopgap until virtual assistants are able to tackle all of our questions and concerns, regardless of the site or platform. Virtual assistants will eventually connect to everything in your digital life, from websites to IoT-enabled devices. Rather than going through different websites and speaking to various different chatbots, the virtual assistant will be the platform for finding the answers you need. If these assistants are doing such a good job, why would you even bother to use a branded chatbot? Realistically this won’t take place for sometime, due to the fragmentation of the marketplace.
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.
For as long as I can remember, email has been a fundamentally important channel for a large majority of businesses. The ability to market products directly through a channel that scales up to an incredibly high ceiling is very attractive. The only problem is that it's costing more and more money to acquire email addresses from potential customers, and the engagement from email is getting worse and worse.
The most advanced bots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It's as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
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.
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).