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.”
All of these conversational technologies employ natural-language-recognition capabilities to discern what the user is saying, and other sophisticated intelligence tools to determine what he or she truly needs to know. These technologies are beginning to use machine learning to learn from interactions and improve the resulting recommendations and responses.
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.
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.
For example, ecommerce companies will likely want a chatbot that can display products, handle shipping questions, but a healthcare chatbot would look very different. Also, while most chatbot software is continually upping the AI-ante, a company called Landbot is taking a different approach, stripping away the complexity to help create better customer conversations.
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".
As you roll out new features or bug fixes to your bot, it's best to use multiple deployment environments, such as staging and production. Using deployment slots from Azure DevOps allows you to do this with zero downtime. You can test your latest upgrades in the staging environment before swapping them to the production environment. In terms of handling load, App Service is designed to scale up or out manually or automatically. Because your bot is hosted in Microsoft's global datacenter infrastructure, the App Service SLA promises high availability.
Specialized conversational bots can be used to make professional tasks easier. For example, a conversational bot could be used to retrieve information faster compared to a manual lookup; simply ask, “What was the patient’s blood pressure in her May visit?” The conversational bot will answer instantly instead of the user perusing through manual or electronic records.
Dan uses an example of a text to speech bot that a user might operate within a car to turn windscreen wipers on and off, and lights on and off. The users’ natural language query is processed by the conversation service to work out the intent and the entity, and then using the context, replies through the dialog in a way that the user can understand.
“They’re doing things we’re simply not doing in the U.S. Imagine if you were going to start a city from scratch. Rather than having to deal with all the infrastructure created 200 years ago, you could hit the ground running on the latest technology. That’s what China’s doing — they’re accessing markets for the first time through mobile apps and payments.” — Brian Buchwald, CEO of consumer intelligence firm Bomoda
At this year’s I/O, Google announced its own Facebook Messenger competitor called Allo. Apart from some neat features around privacy and self-expression, the really interesting part of Allo is @google, the app’s AI digital assistant. Google’s assistant is interesting because the company has about a decades-long head start in machine learning applied to search, so its likely that Allo’s chatbot will be very useful. In fact, you could see Allo becoming the primary interface for interacting with Google search over time. This interaction model would more closely resemble Larry Page’s long-term vision for search, which goes far beyond the clumsy search query + results page model of today:
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.