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.
As with many 'organic' channels, the relative reach of your audience tends to decline over time due to a variety of factors. In email's case, it can be the over-exposure to marketing emails and moves from email providers to filter out promotional content; with other channels it can be the platform itself. Back in 2014 I wrote about how "Facebook's Likes Don't Matter Anymore" in relation to the declining organic reach of Facebook pages. Last year alone the organic reach of publishers on Facebook fell by a further 52%.
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
Simplified and scripted. Chatbot technology is being tacked on to the broader AI message, and while it’s important to note that machine learning will help chatbots get better at understand and responding to questions, it’s not going to make them the conversationalists we dream them to be. No matter what the marketing says, chatbots are entirely scripted. User says x, chatbot responds y.
This means our questions must fit with the programming they have been given. Using our weather bot as an example once more, the question ‘Will it rain tomorrow’ could be answered easily. However if the programming is not there, the question ‘Will I need a brolly tomorrow’ may cause the chatbot to respond with a ‘I am sorry, I didn’t understand the question’ type response.
It didn’t take long, however, for Turing’s headaches to begin. The BabyQ bot drew the ire of Chinese officials by speaking ill of the Communist Party. In the exchange seen in the screenshot above, one user commented, “Long Live the Communist Party!” In response, BabyQ asked the user, “Do you think that such a corrupt and incompetent political regime can live forever?”
Unfortunately the old adage of trash in, trash out came back to bite Microsoft. Tay was soon being fed racist, sexist and genocidal language by the Twitter user-base, leading her to regurgitate these views. Microsoft eventually took Tay down for some re-tooling, but when it returned the AI was significantly weaker, simply repeating itself before being taken offline indefinitely.
"From Russia With Love" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-12-09. Psychologist and Scientific American: Mind contributing editor Robert Epstein reports how he was initially fooled by a chatterbot posing as an attractive girl in a personal ad he answered on a dating website. In the ad, the girl portrayed herself as being in Southern California and then soon revealed, in poor English, that she was actually in Russia. He became suspicious after a couple of months of email exchanges, sent her an email test of gibberish, and she still replied in general terms. The dating website is not named. Scientific American: Mind, October–November 2007, page 16–17, "From Russia With Love: How I got fooled (and somewhat humiliated) by a computer". Also available online.
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.
In business-to-business environments, chatbots are commonly scripted and used to respond to frequently asked questions or perform simple, repetitive calls to action. In sales, for example, a chatbot may be a quick way for sales reps to get phone numbers. Chatbots can also be used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. For example, a service rep might provide the chatbot with an order number and ask when the order was shipped. Generally, once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, the call or text window will be transferred to a human service agent.
The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).