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.
You may remember Facebook’s big chatbot push in 2016 – when they announced that they were opening up the Messenger platform to chatbots of all varieties. Every organization suddenly needed to get their hands on the technology. The idea of having conversational chatbot technology was enthralling, but behind all the glitz, glamour and tech sex appeal, was something a little bit less exciting. To quote Gizmodo writer, Darren Orf:
Perhaps the most important aspect of implementing a chatbot is selecting the right natural language processing (NLP) engine. If the user interacts with the bot through voice, for example, then the chatbot requires a speech recognition engine. Business owners also have to decide whether they want structured or unstructured conversations. Chatbots built for structured conversations are highly scripted, which simplifies programming but restricts the kinds of things that the users can ask.
In other words, bots solve the thing we loathed about apps in the first place. You don't have to download something you'll never use again. It's been said most people stick to five apps. Those holy grail spots? They're increasingly being claimed by messaging apps. Today, messaging apps have over 5 billion monthly active users, and for the first time, people are using them more than social networks.
Not integrated. This goes hand-in-hand with the contextual knowledge, but chatbots often suffer from “death by data silo” where their access to data is limited. If a chatbot is “chatting with” a customer, they not only need to access the contextual data of their customer but also have access to every place where the answer to the customer’s question may reside. Product documentation site, customer community, different websites are all places where that answer can be.
The term "ChatterBot" was originally coined by Michael Mauldin (creator of the first Verbot, Julia) in 1994 to describe these conversational programs. Today, most chatbots are either accessed via virtual assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, via messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat, or via individual organizations' apps and websites.  Chatbots can be classified into usage categories such as conversational commerce (e-commerce via chat), analytics, communication, customer support, design, developer tools, education, entertainment, finance, food, games, health, HR, marketing, news, personal, productivity, shopping, social, sports, travel and utilities.
Tay was built to learn the way millennials converse on Twitter, with the aim of being able to hold a conversation on the platform. In Microsoft’s words: “Tay has been built by mining relevant public data and by using AI and editorial developed by a staff including improvisational comedians. Public data that’s been anonymised is Tay’s primary data source. That data has been modelled, cleaned and filtered by the team developing Tay.”
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.”
The plugin aspect to Chatfuel is one of the real bonuses. You can link up to all sorts of different services to add richer content to the conversations that you're having. This includes linking up to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, as well as being able to request that the user share their location, serve video and audio content, and build out custom attributes that can be used to segment users based on their inputs. This last part is a killer feature.
As in the prior method, each class is given with some number of example sentences. Once again each sentence is broken down by word (stemmed) and each word becomes an input for the neural network. The synaptic weights are then calculated by iterating through the training data thousands of times, each time adjusting the weights slightly to greater accuracy. By recalculating back across multiple layers (“back-propagation”) the weights of all synapses are calibrated while the results are compared to the training data output. These weights are like a ‘strength’ measure, in a neuron the synaptic weight is what causes something to be more memorable than not. You remember a thing more because you’ve seen it more times: each time the ‘weight’ increases slightly.
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.
As digital continues to rewrite the rules of engagement across industries and markets, a new competitive reality is emerging: “Being digital” soon won’t be enough. Organizations will use artificial intelligence and other technologies to help them make faster, more informed decisions, become far more efficient, and craft more personalized and relevant experiences for both customers and employees.
There are a bunch of e-commerce stores taking advantage of chatbots as well. One example that I was playing with was from Fynd that enables you to ask for specific products and they'll display them to you directly within Messenger. What's more, Facebook even allows you to make payments via Messenger bots, opening up a whole world of possibility to e-commerce stores.
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:
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
The chatbot uses keywords that users type in the chat line and guesses what they may be looking for. For example, if you own a restaurant that has vegan options on the menu, you might program the word “vegan” into the bot. Then when users type in that word, the return message will include vegan options from the menu or point out the menu section that features these dishes.
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.
If AI struggles with fourth-grade science question answering, should AI be expected to hold an adult-level, open-ended chit-chat about politics, entertainment, and weather? It is thus encouraging to see that Microsoft’s Satya Nadella did not give up on Tay after its debacle, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is sponsoring an Alexa social chatbot competition. I love this below quote from Jeff:
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.
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.
Utility bots solve a user's problem, whatever that may be, via a user-prompted transaction. The most obvious example is a shopping bot, such as one that helps you order flowers or buy a new jacket. According to a recent HubSpot Research study, 47% of shoppers are open to buying items from a bot. But utility bots are not limited to making purchases. A utility bot could automatically book meetings by scanning your emails or notify you of the payment subscriptions you forgot you were signed up for.
2a : a computer program that performs automatic repetitive tasks : agent sense 5 Several shopping "bots" will track down prices for on-line merchandise from a variety of vendors.— Sam Vincent Meddis especially : one designed to perform a malicious action These bot programs churn away all day and night, prodding at millions of random IP addresses looking for holes to crawl through. — Jennifer Tanaka
As AOL's David Shingy writes in Adweek, "The challenge [with chatbots] will be thinking about creative from a whole different view: Can we have creative that scales? That customizes itself? We find ourselves hurtling toward another handoff from man to machine -- what larger system of creative or complex storytelling structure can I design such that a machine can use it appropriately and effectively?"
Chatfuel is a platform that lets you build your own Chatbot for Messenger (and Telegram) for free. The only limit is if you pass more than 100,000 conversations per month, but for most businesses that won't be an issue. No understanding of code is required and it has a simple drag-and-drop interface. Think Wix/Squarespace for bots (side note: I have zero affiliation with Chatfuel).
The process of building, testing and deploying chatbots can be done on cloud-based chatbot development platforms offered by cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers such as Oracle Cloud Platform Yekaliva and IBM Watson. These cloud platforms provide Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Backend as a Service for chatbot development.