An ecommerce website’s user interface is an important part of the overall application. It has amazing product pictures for shoppers to look at. It has an advanced search tool to help the shopper locate products. It has lovely buttons users can click to add products to the shopping cart. And it has forms for entering payment information or an address.
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.
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 Knowledge Graph, Google search has already become amazingly good at understanding the context and meaning of your queries, and it is getting better at natural language queries. With its massive scale in data and years of working at the very hard problems of natural language processing, the company has a clear path to making Allo’s conversational commerce capabilities second to none.
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.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.
H&M’s consistent increased sales over the past year and its August announcement to launch an eCommerce presence in Canada and South Korea during the fall of 2016, along with 11 new H&M online markets (for a total of 35 markets by the end of the year), appear to signify positive results for its chatbot implementation (though direct correlations are unavailable on its website).
In 1950, Alan Turing's famous article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" was published, which proposed what is now called the Turing test as a criterion of intelligence. This criterion depends on the ability of a computer program to impersonate a human in a real-time written conversation with a human judge, sufficiently well that the judge is unable to distinguish reliably—on the basis of the conversational content alone—between the program and a real human. The notoriety of Turing's proposed test stimulated great interest in Joseph Weizenbaum's program ELIZA, published in 1966, which seemed to be able to fool users into believing that they were conversing with a real human. However Weizenbaum himself did not claim that ELIZA was genuinely intelligent, and the introduction to his paper presented it more as a debunking exercise: