Derived from “chat robot”, "chatbots" allow for highly engaging, conversational experiences, through voice and text, that can be customized and used on mobile devices, web browsers, and on popular chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger, or Slack. With the advent of deep learning technologies such as text-to-speech, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing, chatbots that simulate human conversation and dialogue can now be found in call center and customer service workflows, DevOps management, and as personal assistants.

There are obvious revenue opportunities around subscriptions, advertising and commerce. If bots are designed to save you time that you’d normally spend on mundane tasks or interactions, it’s possible they’ll seem valuable enough to justify a subscription fee. If bots start to replace some of the functions that you’d normally use a search engine like Google for, it’s easy to imagine some sort of advertising component. Or if bots help you shop, the bot-maker could arrange for a commission.

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.

Conversational bots “live” online and give customers a familiar experience, similar to engaging an employee or a live agent, and they can offer that experience in higher volumes. Conversational bots offer scaling—or the capability to perform equally well under an expanding workload—in ways that human can’t, assisting businesses to reach customers in a way they couldn’t before. For one, businesses have created 24/7/365 online presence through conversational bots.

Endurance is a companion chatbot that uses neurolinguistics programming (better known as NLP) to have friendly conversations with suspected patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It uses AI technology to maintain a lucid conversation while simultaneously testing the human user’s ability to remember information in different ways. The chatbot encourages the user to talk about their favorite activities, memories, music, etc. This doesn’t just test the person’s memory but actively promotes their ability to recall.
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY').[9] Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".