Reports of political interferences in recent elections, including the 2016 US and 2017 UK general elections, have set the notion of botting being more prevalent because of the ethics that is challenged between the bot’s design and the bot’s designer. According to Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist from the University of Southern California reporting on Communications of the ACM, the lack of resources available to implement fact-checking and information verification results in the large volumes of false reports and claims made on these bots in social media platforms. In the case of Twitter, most of these bots are programmed with searching filter capabilities that target key words and phrases that reflect in favor and against political agendas and retweet them. While the attention of bots is programmed to spread unverified information throughout the social media platform, it is a challenge that programmers face in the wake of a hostile political climate. Binary functions are designated to the programs and using an Application Program interface embedded in the social media website executes the functions tasked. The Bot Effect is what Ferrera reports as when the socialization of bots and human users creates a vulnerability to the leaking of personal information and polarizing influences outside the ethics of the bot’s code. According to Guillory Kramer in his study, he observes the behavior of emotionally volatile users and the impact the bots have on the users, altering the perception of reality.
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.
Chatbots – also known as “conversational agents” – are software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person. There are two primary ways chatbots are offered to visitors: via web-based applications or standalone apps. Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps.
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.
The main challenge is in teaching a chatbot to understand the language of your customers. In every business, customers express themselves differently and each group of a target audience speaks its own way. The language is influenced by advertising campaigns on the market, the political situation in the country, releases of new services and products from Google, Apple and Pepsi among others. The way people speak depends on their city, mood, weather and moon phase. An important role in the communication of the business with customers may have the release of the film Star Wars, for example. That’s why training a chatbot to understand correctly everything the user types requires a lot of efforts.
Businesses are no exception to this rule. As more and more users now expect and prefer chat as a primary mode of communication, we’ll begin to see more and more businesses leveraging conversational AI to achieve business goals—just as Gartner predicts. It’s not just for the customer; your business can reduce operational costs and scale operations as well.
How far are we from building systems with commonsense? One often-heard answer is: not in the near future, while the realistic answer is: we don’t know. Last year, I spent some time trying to build a system that can do better than an information retrieval baseline in taking fourth-grade science exam (which still has a ways to go to gain a passing score of 65%). I failed hard. Here’s an example to get a sense of the difficulty of these questions.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
Once you’ve determined these factors, you can develop the front-end web app or microservice. You might decide to integrate a chatbot into a customer support website where a customer clicks on an icon that immediately triggers a chatbot conversation. You could also integrate a chatbot into another communication channel, whether it’s Slack or Facebook Messenger. Building a “Slackbot,” for example, gives your users another way to get help or find information within a familiar interface.
Once your bot is running in production, you will need a DevOps team to keep it that way. Continually monitor the system to ensure the bot operates at peak performance. Use the logs sent to Application Insights or Cosmos DB to create monitoring dashboards, either using Application Insights itself, Power BI, or a custom web app dashboard. Send alerts to the DevOps team if critical errors occur or performance falls below an acceptable threshold.
WeChat was created by Chinese holding company Tencent three years ago. The product was created by a special projects team within Tencent (who also owns the dominant desktop messaging software in China, QQ) under the mandate of creating a completely new mobile-first messaging experience for the Chinese market. In three short years, WeChat has exploded in popularity and has become the dominant mobile messaging platform in China, with approximately 700M monthly active users (MAUs).
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics.
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.
With last year’s refresh of AppleTV, Apple brought its Siri voice assistant to the center of the UI. You can now ask Siri to play your favorite TV shows, check the weather, search for and buy specific types of movies, and a variety of other specific tasks. Although far behind Amazon’s Echo in terms of breadth of functionality, Apple will no doubt expand Siri’s integration into AppleTV, and its likely that the company will introduce a new version of AppleTV that more directly competes with the Echo, perhaps with a voice remote control that is always listening for commands.
IBM estimates that 265 billion customer support tickets and calls are made globally every year, resulting in $1.3 trillion in customer service costs. IBM also referenced a Chatbots Magazine figure purporting that implementing customer service AI solutions, such as chatbots, into service workflows can reduce a business’ spend on customer service by 30 percent.
Being an early adopter of a new channel can provide enormous benefits, but that comes with equally high risks. This is amplified within marketplaces like Amazon. Early adopters within Amazon's marketplace were able to focus on building a solid base of reviews for their products - a primary ranking signal - which meant that they'd create huge barriers to entry for competitors (namely because they were always showing up in the search results before them).
With competitor Venmo already established, peer-to-peer payments is not in and of itself a compelling feature for Snapchat. However, adding wallet functionality and payment methods to the app does lay the groundwork for Snapchat to delve directly into commerce. The messaging app’s commerce strategy became more clear in April 2016 with its launch of shoppable stories with select partners in its Discover section. For the first time, while viewing video stories from Target and Lancome, users were able to “swipe up” to visit an e-commerce page embedded within the Snapchat app where they could purchase products from those partners.
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.
Canadian and US insurers have a lot on their plates this year. They’re not just grappling with extreme weather, substantial underwriting losses from all those motor vehicle claims, but also rising customer expectations and an onslaught of fintech disruptors. These disruptors are spurring lots of activity in insurance digital labs, insurance venture capital arms, and […]
Marketing teams are increasingly interested in leveraging branded chatbots, but most struggle to deliver business value. My recently published report, Case Study: Take A Focused And Disciplined Approach To Drive Chatbot Success, shows how OCBC Bank in Singapore is bucking the trend: The bank recently created Emma, a chatbot focused on home loan leads, which […]
Say you want to build a bot that tells the current temperature. The dialog for the bot only needs coding to recognize and report the requested location and temperature. To do this, the bot needs to pull data from the API of the local weather service, based on the user’s location, and to send that data back to the user—basically, a few lines of templatable code and you’re done.
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.com, 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 Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app. In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly. These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.