“Today, chat isn’t yet being perceived as an engagement driver, but more of a customer service operation[…]” Horwitz writes for Chatbots Magazine. “Brands and marketers can start collecting data around the engagement and interaction of end users. Those that are successful could see higher brand recognition, turning user-level mobile moments into huge returns.”
Chatbots such as ELIZA and PARRY were early attempts at creating programs that could at least temporarily fool a real human being into thinking they were having a conversation with another person. PARRY's effectiveness was benchmarked in the early 1970s using a version of a Turing test; testers only made the correct identification of human vs. chatbot at a level consistent with making a random guess.
For example, say you want to purchase a pair of shoes online from Nordstrom. You would have to browse their site and look around until you find the pair you wanted. Then you would add the pair to your cart to go through the motions of checking out. But in the case Nordstrom had a conversational bot, you would simply tell the bot what you’re looking for and get an instant answer. You would be able to search within an interface that actually learns what you like, even when you can’t coherently articulate it. And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll even have similar experiences when we visit the retail stores.
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.
A chatbot (also known as a talkbots, chatterbot, Bot, IM bot, interactive agent, or Artificial Conversational Entity) is a computer program or an artificial intelligence which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, thereby passing the Turing test. Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatterbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler systems scan for keywords within the input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database.
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.
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.
At a high level, a conversational bot can be divided into the bot functionality (the "brain") and a set of surrounding requirements (the "body"). The brain includes the domain-aware components, including the bot logic and ML capabilities. Other components are domain agnostic and address non-functional requirements such as CI/CD, quality assurance, and security.
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.
For every question or instruction input to the conversational bot, there must exist a specific pattern in the database to provide a suitable response. Where there are several combinations of patterns available, and a hierarchical pattern is created. In these cases, algorithms are used to reduce the classifiers and generate a structure that is more manageable. This is the “reductionist” approach—or, in other words, to have a simplified solution, it reduces the problem.
The fact that you can now run ads directly to Messenger is an enormous opportunity for any business. This skips the convoluted and leaky process of trying to acquire someone's email address to nurture them outside of Facebook's platform. Instead, you can retain the connection with someone inside Facebook and improve the overall conversion rates to receiving an engagement.
The upcoming TODA agents are good at one thing, and one thing only. As Facebook found out with the ambitious Project M, building general personal assistants that can help users in multiple tasks (cross-domain agents) is hard. Think awfully hard. Beyond the obvious increase in scope, knowledge, and vocabulary, there is no built-in data generator that feeds the hungry learning machine (sans an unlikely concerted effort to aggregate the data silos from multiple businesses). The jury is out whether the army of human agents that Project M employs can scale, even with Facebook’s kind of resources. In addition, cross-domain agents will probably need major advances in areas such as domain adaptation, transfer learning, dialog planning and management, reinforcement/apprenticeship learning, automatic dialog evaluation, etc.
Authentication. Users start by authenticating themselves using whatever mechanism is provided by their channel of communication with the bot. The bot framework supports many communication channels, including Cortana, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack. For a list of channels, see Connect a bot to channels. When you create a bot with Azure Bot Service, the Web Chat channel is automatically configured. This channel allows users to interact with your bot directly in a web page. You can also connect the bot to a custom app by using the Direct Line channel. The user's identity is used to provide role-based access control, as well as to serve personalized content.
A chatbot works in a couple of ways: set guidelines and machine learning. A chatbot that functions with a set of guidelines in place is limited in its conversation. It can only respond to a set number of requests and vocabulary, and is only as intelligent as its programming code. An example of a limited bot is an automated banking bot that asks the caller some questions to understand what the caller wants done. The bot would make a command like “Please tell me what I can do for you by saying account balances, account transfer, or bill payment.” If the customer responds with "credit card balance," the bot would not understand the request and would proceed to either repeat the command or transfer the caller to a human assistant.
Your bot can use other AI services to further enrich the user experience. The Cognitive Services suite of pre-built AI services (which includes LUIS and QnA Maker) has services for vision, speech, language, search, and location. You can quickly add functionality such as language translation, spell checking, sentiment analysis, OCR, location awareness, and content moderation. These services can be wired up as middleware modules in your bot to interact more naturally and intelligently with the user.
Chatbots give businesses a way to deliver this information in a comfortable, conversational manner. Customers can have all their questions answered without the pressure or obligation that make some individuals wary of interacting with a live salesperson. Once they’ve obtained enough information to make a decision, a chatbot can introduce a human representative to take the sale the rest of the way.
It’s not all doom and gloom for chatbots. Chatbots are a stopgap until virtual assistants are able to tackle all of our questions and concerns, regardless of the site or platform. Virtual assistants will eventually connect to everything in your digital life, from websites to IoT-enabled devices. Rather than going through different websites and speaking to various different chatbots, the virtual assistant will be the platform for finding the answers you need. If these assistants are doing such a good job, why would you even bother to use a branded chatbot? Realistically this won’t take place for sometime, due to the fragmentation of the marketplace.
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.
Regardless of which type of classifier is used, the end-result is a response. Like a music box, there can be additional “movements” associated with the machinery. A response can make use of external information (like weather, a sports score, a web lookup, etc.) but this isn’t specific to chatbots, it’s just additional code. A response may reference specific “parts of speech” in the sentence, for example: a proper noun. Also the response (for an intent) can use conditional logic to provide different responses depending on the “state” of the conversation, this can be a random selection (to insert some ‘natural’ feeling).
“The chat space is sort of the last unpolluted space [on your phone],” said Sam Mandel, who works at the startup studio Betaworks and is also building a weather bot for Slack called Poncho. “It’s like the National Park of people’s online experience. Right now, the way people use chat services, it’s really a good private space that you control.” (That, of course, could quickly go sour if early implementations are too spammy or useless.)
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.
Last, but not least coming in with the bot platform for business is FlowXO, which creates bots for Messenger, Slack, SMS, Telegraph and the web. This platform allows for creating various flexibility in bots by giving you the option to create a fully automated bot, human, or a hybrid of both. ChatBot expert Murray Newlands commented that "Where 10 years ago every company needed a website and five years ago every company needed an app, now every company needs to embrace messaging with AI and chatbots."
You can structure these modules to flow in any way you like, ranging from free form to sequential. The Bot Framework SDK provides several libraries that allows you to construct any conversational flow your bot needs. For example, the prompts library allows you to ask users for input, the waterfall library allows you to define a sequence of question/answer pair, the dialog control library allows you to modularized your conversational flow logic, etc. All of these libraries are tied together through a dialogs object. Let's take a closer look at how modules are implemented as dialogs to design and manage conversation flows and see how that flow is similar to the traditional application flow.
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.
To inspire your first (or next) foray into the weird and wonderful world of chatbots, we've compiled a list of seven brands whose bot-based campaigns were fueled by an astute knowledge of their target audiences and solid copywriting. Check them out below, and start considering if a chatbot is the right move for your own company's next big marketing campaign.
Today, consumers are more aware of technology than ever. While some marketers may be worried about overusing automation and chat tools because their tech-savvy audience might notice. Others are embracing the bots and using them to improve the user journey by providing a more personalized experience. Ironically, sometimes bots are the key to adding a human touch to your marketing communications.
One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. utilises a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.
Dialogflow is a very robust platform for developing chatbots. One of the strongest reasons of using Dialogflow is its powerful Natural Language Understanding (NLU). You can build highly interactive chatbot as NLP of Dialogflow excels in intent classification and entity detection. It also offers integration with many chat platforms like Google Assistant, Facebook Messenger, Telegram,…
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
In a traditional application, the user interface (UI) consists of a series of screens, and a single app or website can use one or more screens as needed to exchange information with the user. Most applications start with a main screen where users initially land, and that screen provides navigation that leads to other screens for various functions like starting a new order, browsing products, or looking for help.
Several studies accomplished by analytics agencies such as Juniper or Gartner  report significant reduction of cost of customer services, leading to billions of dollars of economy in the next 10 years. Gartner predicts an integration by 2020 of chatbots in at least 85% of all client's applications to customer service. Juniper's study announces an impressive amount of $8 billion retained annually by 2022 due to the use of chatbots.