…utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context. The net result is that you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal.
These are just a few of the most inspirational chatbot startups from the last year, with numerous others around the globe currently receiving acclaim for how quickly and innovatively they are using AI to change the world. With development becoming more intuitive and accessible to people all over the world, we can expect to see more startups using new technology to solve old problems.
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:
It may be tempting to assume that users will perform procedural tasks one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, in a procedural conversation flow using dialogs, 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.
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.
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,…
To inspire the next generation of explorers, NASA reaches out to students in schools, community organizations, and public events. A star robotic ambassador is “Rov-E,” a close replica of real NASA Mars rovers. Through Amazon Lex, NASA staff can now easily navigate Rov-E via voice commands -- an effective conversational interface when speaking with large crowds. Multi-turn dialog management capability enables Rov-E "to talk,” answering students’ questions about Mars in an engaging way. Integration with AWS services allows Rov-E to connect and scale with various data sources to retrieve NASA’s Mars exploration information.
It won’t be an easy march though once we get to the nitty-gritty details. For example, I heard through the grapevine that when Starbucks looked at the voice data they collected from customer orders, they found that there are a few millions unique ways to order. (For those in the field, I’m talking about unique user utterances.) This is to be expected given the wild combinations of latte vs mocha, dairy vs soy, grande vs trenta, extra-hot vs iced, room vs no-room, for here vs to-go, snack variety, spoken accent diversity, etc. The AI practitioner will soon curse all these dimensions before taking a deep learning breath and getting to work. I feel though that given practically unlimited data, deep learning is now good enough to overcome this problem, and it is only a matter of couple of years until we see these TODA solutions deployed. One technique to watch is Generative Adversarial Nets (GAN). Roughly speaking, GAN engages itself in an iterative game of counterfeiting real stuffs, getting caught by the police neural network, improving counterfeiting skill, and rinse-and-repeating until it can pass as your Starbucks’ order-taking person, given enough data and iterations.
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).
How: this involves creating a basic content block within Chatfuel that has a discount code within it. Instead of giving all users of the bot the same experience, you can direct them through to specific parts of the conversation (or 'blocks'). Using the direct link to your content block, you'll be able to create CTAs on your website that direct people straight into Messenger to get a discount code (more info here).
The chatbot must rely on spoken or written communications to discover what the shopper or user wants and is limited to the messaging platform’s capabilities when it comes to responding to the shopper or user. This requires a much better understanding of natural language and intent. It also means that developers must write connections to several different platforms, again like Messenger or Slack, if the chatbot is to have the same potential reach as a website.
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
Another reason is that Facebook, which has 900 million Messenger users, is expected to get into bots. Many see this as a big potential opportunity; where Facebook goes, the rest of the industry often follows. Slack, which lends itself to bot-based services, has also grown dramatically to two million daily users, which bot makers and investors see as a potentially lucrative market.
Of course, it is not so simple to create an interactive agent that the user will really trust. That’s why IM bots have not replaced all the couriers, doctors and the author of these lines. In this article, instead of talking about the future of chatbots, we will give you a short excursion into the topic of chatbots, how they work, how they can be employed and how difficult it is to create one yourself.
Oh and by the way: We’ve been hard at work on some interesting projects at Coveo, one of those focusing squarely on the world of chatbots. We’ve leveraged our insight engine, and enabled it to work within the confines of your preferred chat tool: the power of Coveo, in chatbot form. The best part about our work in the field of chatbots? The code is out there in the wild waiting for you to utilize it, providing that you are already a customer or partner of Coveo. All you need to do is jump over to the Coveo Labs github page, download it, and get your hands dirty!
These are one of the major tools applied in machine learning. They are brain-inspired processing tools that actually replicate how humans learn. And now that we’ve successfully replicated the way we learn, these systems are capable of taking that processing power to a level where even greater volumes of more complex data can be understood by the machine.
However, if you’re trying to develop a sophisticated bot that can understand more than a couple of basic commands, you’re heading down a potentially complicated path. More elaborately coded bots respond to various forms of user questions and responses. The bots have typically been “trained” on databases of thousands of words, queries, or sentences so that they can learn to detect lexical similarity. A good e-commerce bot “knows” that trousers are a kind of pants (if you are in the US), though this is beyond the comprehension of a simple, untrained bot.
Chatbots succeed when a clear understanding of user intent drives development of both the chatbot logic and the end-user interaction. As part of your scoping process, define the intentions of potential users. What goals will they express in their input? For example, will users want to buy an airline ticket, figure out whether a medical procedure is covered by their insurance plan or determine whether they need to bring their computer in for repair?
Your first question is how much of it does she want? 1 litre? 500ml? 200? She tells you she wants a 1 litre Tropicana 100% Orange Juice. Now you know that regular Tropicana is easily available, but 100% is hard to come by, so you call up a few stores beforehand to see where it’s available. You find one store that’s pretty close by, so you go back to your mother and tell her you found what she wanted. It’s $3 and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
Using this method, you can manage multiple funnels of content upgrades, and even convince your users to take the next step in the buyer journey directly within Messenger. In the example below I just direct the user to subscribe to content recommendations via Messenger, but you could push them to book a meeting with a sales rep, take a free trial or directly purchase your product.
“HubSpot's GrowthBot is an all-in-one chatbot which helps marketers and sales people be more productive by providing access to relevant data and services using a conversational interface. With GrowthBot, marketers can get help creating content, researching competitors, and monitoring their analytics. Through Amazon Lex, we're adding sophisticated natural language processing capabilities that helps GrowthBot provide a more intuitive UI for our users. Amazon Lex lets us take advantage of advanced AI and machine learning without having to code the algorithms ourselves.”
Web site: From Russia With Love. PDF. 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.
Indeed, this is one of the key benefits of chatbots – providing a 24/7/365 presence that can give prospects and customers access to information no matter when they need it. This, in turn, can result in cost-savings for companies that deploy chatbots, as they cut down on the labour-hours that would be required for staff to manage a direct messaging service every hour of the week.
Whilst the payout wasn't huge within the early days of Amazon, those who got in early are now seeing huge rewards, with 38% of shoppers starting their buying journey within Amazon (source), making it the number one retail search engine. Some studies are suggesting that Amazon is responsible for 80% of e-commerce growth for publicly traded web retailers (source).
The NLP system has a wide and varied lexicon to better understand the complexities of natural language. Using an algorithmic process, it determines what has been asked and uses decision trees or slot-based algorithms that go through a predefined conversation path. After it understands the question, the computer then finds the best answer and provides it in the natural language of the user.
"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.