ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
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.
When we open our news feed and find out about yet another AI breakthrough—IBM Watson, driverless cars, AlphaGo — the notion of TODA may feel decidedly anti-climatic. The reality is that the current AI is not quite 100% turnkey-ready for TODA. This will soon change due to two key factors: 1) businesses want it, and 2) businesses have abundant data, the fuel that the current state-of-the-art machine learning techniques need to make AI work.
Chatbots currently operate through a number of channels, including web, within apps, and on messaging platforms. They also work across the spectrum from digital commerce to banking using bots for research, lead generation, and brand awareness. An increasing amount of businesses are experimenting with chatbots for e-commerce, customer service, and content delivery.
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To keep chatbots up to speed with changing company products and services, traditional chatbot development platforms require ongoing maintenance. This can either be in the form of an ongoing service provider or for larger enterprises in the form of an in-house chatbot training team. To eliminate these costs, some startups are experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to develop self-learning chatbots, particularly in Customer Service applications.
Do the nature of our services and size of our customer base warrant an investment in a more efficient and automated customer service response? How can we offer a more streamlined experience without (necessarily) increasing costly human resources? Amtrak’s website receives over 375,000 daily visitors, and they wanted a solution that provided users with instant access to online self-service.
Students from different backgrounds can share their views and perspectives on a specific matter while a chatbot can still adapt to each one of them individually. Chatbots can improve engagement among students and encourage interaction with the rest of the class by assigning group work and projects - similarly to what teachers usually do in regular classes.
Having a conversation with a computer might have seemed like science fiction even a few years ago. But now, most of us already use chatbots for a variety of tasks. For example, as end users, we ask the virtual assistant on our smartphones to find a local restaurant and provide directions. Or, we use an online banking chatbot for help with a loan application.
Through Amazon’s developer platform for the Echo (called Alexa Skills), developers can develop “skills” for Alexa which enable her to carry out new types of tasks. Examples of skills include playing music from your Spotify library, adding events to your Google Calendar, or querying your credit card balance with Capital One — you can even ask Alexa to “open Dominoes and place my Easy Order” and have pizza delivered without even picking up your smartphone. Now that’s conversational commerce in action.
This kind of thinking has lead me to develop a bot where the focus is as a medium for content rather than a subsitute for intelligence. So users create content much as conventional author, (but with text stored in spreadsheets rather than anywhere else). Very little is expected from the bot in terms of human behavious such as “learning”, “empathy”, “memory” and character”. Does it work?
Dan uses an example of a text to speech bot that a user might operate within a car to turn windscreen wipers on and off, and lights on and off. The users’ natural language query is processed by the conversation service to work out the intent and the entity, and then using the context, replies through the dialog in a way that the user can understand.
Once the chatbot is ready and is live interacting with customers, smart feedback loops can be implemented. During the conversation when customers ask a question, chatbot smartly give them a couple of answers by providing different options like “Did you mean a,b or c”. That way customers themselves matches the questions with actual possible intents and that information can be used to retrain the machine learning model, hence improving the chatbot’s accuracy.
Kik is one of the most popular chat apps among teens with 275M MAUs and 40% of those are in the 13–24 year old demographic. In April, Kik launched its own bot store with 16 launch partners including Sephora, H&M, Vine, the Weather Channel, and Funny or Die. Using Kik’s bots currently feel like using the internet in 1994, very rough around the edges and limited functionality / usefulness. However, we’ll see how their API and bots progress over time, Kik’s popularity among an attractive demographic might convince some brands to invest in the platform.
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.
Training a chatbot happens at much faster and larger scale than you teach a human. Humans Customer Service Representatives are given manuals and have them read it and understand. While the Customer Support Chatbot is fed with thousands of conversation logs and from those logs, the chatbot is able to understand what type of question requires what type of answers.
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.
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.”
Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.