To envision the future of chatbots/virtual assistants, we need to take a quick trip down memory lane. Remember Clippy? Love him or hate him, he’s ingrained in our memory as the little assistant who couldn’t (sorry, Clippy.). But someday, this paper clip could be the chosen one. Imagine with me if you will a support agent speaking with a customer over the phone, or even chat support. Clippy could be listening in, reviewing the questions the customer is posing, and proactively providing relevant content to the support agent. Instead of digging around from system to system, good ‘ole Clippy would have their back, saving them the trouble of hunting down relevant information needed for the task at hand.
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.
aLVin is built on the foundation of Nuance’s Nina, the intelligent multichannel virtual assistant that leverages natural language understanding (NLU) and cognitive computing capabilities. aLVin interacts with brokers to better understand “intent” and deliver the right information 24/7; the chatbot was built with extensive knowledge of LV=Broker’s products, which accelerated the process of being able to answer more questions and direct brokers to the right products early on
Alexander J Porter is Head of Copy for Paperclip Digital - Sydney’s boutique agency with bold visions. Bringing a creative flair to everything that he does, he wields words to weave magic connections between brands and their buyers. With extensive experience as a content writer, he is constantly driven to explore the way language can strike consumers like lightning.
“Utility gets something done following a prompt. At a higher level the more entertainment-related chatbots are able to answer all questions and get things done. Siri and Cortana you can have small talk with, as well as getting things done, so they are much harder to build. They took years and years of giant company’s efforts. Different companies that don’t have those resources, like Facebook, will build more constrained utility bots.”
Typically, companies applied a passive engagement method with consumers. In other words, customer support only responds to complaining consumers – but never initiate any conversations or look for feedback. While this method was fine for a long while, it doesn’t work anymore with millennials. Users want to communicate with attentive brands who have a 24/7 support system and they won’t settle for anything less.
Screenless conversations are expected to dominate even more as internet connectivity and social media is poised to expand. From the era of Eliza to Alice to today’s conversational bots, we have come a long way. Conversational bots are changing the way businesses and programs interact with us. They have simplified many aspects of device use and the daily grind, and made interactions between customers and businesses more efficient.
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.
Why are chatbots important? A chatbot is often described as one of the most advanced and promising expressions of interaction between humans and machines. However, from a technological point of view, a chatbot only represents the natural evolution of a Question Answering system leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP). Formulating responses to questions in natural language is one of the most typical Examples of Natural Language Processing applied in various enterprises’ end-use applications.
Smooch acts as more of a chatbot connector that bridges your business apps, (ex: Slack and ZenDesk) with your everyday messenger apps (ex: Facebook Messenger, WeChat, etc.) It links these two together by sending all of your Messenger chat notifications straight to your business apps, which streamlines your conversations into just one application. In the end, this can result in smoother automated workflows and communications across teams. These same connectors also allow you to create chatbots which will respond to your customer chats…. boom!
However, chatbots are not just limited to answering queries and providing basic knowledge. They can work as an aid to the teacher/instructor by identifying spelling and grammatical mistakes with precision, checking homework, assigning projects, and, more importantly, keeping track of students' progress and achievements. A human can only do so much, whereas a bot has virtually an infinite capacity to store and analyse all data.
Generally, companies engage in passive customer interactions. That is, they only respond to inquiries but don’t start chats. AI bots can begin the conversation and inform customers about sales and promotions. Moreover, virtual assistants can offer product pages, images, blog entries, and video tutorials. Suppose a customer finds a nice pair of jeans on your website. In this case, a chatbot can send them a link to a page with T-shirts that go well with them.
Like apps and websites, bots have a UI, but it is made up of dialogs, rather than screens. Dialogs help preserve your place within a conversation, prompt users when needed, and execute input validation. They are useful for managing multi-turn conversations and simple "forms-based" collections of information to accomplish activities such as booking a flight.
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.
It may be tempting to assume that users will navigate across dialogs, creating a dialog stack, and at some point will navigate back in the direction they came from, unstacking the dialogs one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
Its a chat-bot — For simplicity reasons in this article, it is assumed that the user will type in text and the bot would respond back with an appropriate message in the form of text (So, we will not be concerned with the aspects like ASR, speech recognition, speech to text, text to speech etc., Below architecture can anyways be enhanced with these components, as required).
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Message generator component consists of several user defined templates (templates are nothing but sentences with some placeholders, as appropriate) that map to the action names. So depending on the action predicted by the dialogue manager, the respective template message is invoked. If the template requires some placeholder values to be filled up, those values are also passed by the dialogue manager to the generator. Then the appropriate message is displayed to the user and the bot goes into a wait mode listening for the user input.
Let’s take a weather chat bot as an example to examine the capabilities of Scripted and Structured chatbots. The question “Will it rain on Sunday?” can be easily answered. However, if there is no programming for the question “Will I need an umbrella on Sunday?” then the query will not be understood by the chat bot. This is the common limitation with scripted and structured chatbots. However, in all cases, a conversational bot can only be as intelligent as the programming it has been given.
As artificial intelligence continues to evolve (it’s predicted that AI could double economic growth rates by 2035), conversational bots are becoming a powerful tool for businesses worldwide. By 2020, it’s predicted that 85% of customers’ relationship with businesses will be handled without engaging a human at all. Businesses are even abandoning their mobile apps to adopt conversational bots.
Of course, each messaging app has its own fine print for bots. For example, on Messenger a brand can send a message only if the user prompted the conversation, and if the user doesn't find value and opt to receive future notifications within those first 24 hours, there's no future communication. But to be honest, that's not enough to eradicate the threat of bad bots.
Reduce costs: The potential to reduce costs is one of the clearest benefits of using a chatbot. A chatbot can provide a new first line of support, supplement support during peak periods or offer an additional support option. In all of these cases, employing a chatbot can help reduce the number of users who need to speak with a human. You can avoid scaling up your staff or offering human support around the clock.
Chatbots can reply instantly to any questions. The waiting time is ‘virtually’ 0 (see what I did there?). Even if a real person eventually shows up to fix the issues, the customer gets engaged in the conversation, which can help you build trust. The problem could be better diagnosed, and the chatbot could perform some routine checks with the user. This saves up time for both the customer and the support agent. That’s a lot better than just recklessly waiting for a representative to arrive.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app.
This is where most applications of NLP struggle, and not just chatbots. Any system or application that relies upon a machine’s ability to parse human speech is likely to struggle with the complexities inherent in elements of speech such as metaphors and similes. Despite these considerable limitations, chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, responsive, and more “natural.”
Simple chatbots, or bots, are easy to build. In fact, many coders have automated bot-building processes and templates. The majority of these processes follow simple code formulas that the designer plans, and the bots provide the responses coded into it—and only those responses. Simplistic bots (built in five minutes or less) typically respond to one or two very specific commands.
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 $2, maybe $3, and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
The market shapes customer behavior. Gartner predicts that “40% of mobile interactions will be managed by smart agents by 2020.” Every single business out there today either has a chatbot already or is considering one. 30% of customers expect to see a live chat option on your website. Three out of 10 consumers would give up phone calls to use messaging. As more and more customers begin expecting your company to have a direct way to contact you, it makes sense to have a touch point on a messenger.
Tay was built to learn the way millennials converse on Twitter, with the aim of being able to hold a conversation on the platform. In Microsoft’s words: “Tay has been built by mining relevant public data and by using AI and editorial developed by a staff including improvisational comedians. Public data that’s been anonymised is Tay’s primary data source. That data has been modelled, cleaned and filtered by the team developing Tay.”
Shane Mac, CEO of San Francisco-based Assist,warned from challenges businesses face when trying to implement chatbots into their support teams: “Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard.
Keep it conversational: Chatbots help make it easy for users to find the information they need. Users can ask questions in a conversational way, and the chatbots can help them refine their searches through their responses and follow-up questions. Having had substantial experience with personal assistants on their smartphones and elsewhere, users today expect this level of informal interaction. When chatbot users are happy, the organizations employing the chatbots benefit.
This is a lot less complicated than it appears. Given a set of sentences, each belonging to a class, and a new input sentence, we can count the occurrence of each word in each class, account for its commonality and assign each class a score. Factoring for commonality is important: matching the word “it” is considerably less meaningful than a match for the word “cheese”. The class with the highest score is the one most likely to belong to the input sentence. This is a slight oversimplification as words need to be reduced to their stems, but you get the basic idea.
If a text-sending algorithm can pass itself off as a human instead of a chatbot, its message would be more credible. Therefore, human-seeming chatbots with well-crafted online identities could start scattering fake news that seem plausible, for instance making false claims during a presidential election. With enough chatbots, it might be even possible to achieve artificial social proof.