In this article, we shed a spotlight on 7 real-world chatbots/virtual assistants across industries that are in action and reaping value for their parent companies. From streamlined operations and saved human productivity to increased customer engagement, the following examples are worth a read if you’ve ever considered leveraging chatbot technology for your business (or are curious about the possibilities).
“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
Next, identify the data sources that will enable the bot to interact intelligently with users. As mentioned earlier, these data sources could contain structured, semi-structured, or unstructured data sets. When you're getting started, a good approach is to make a one-off copy of the data to a central store, such as Cosmos DB or Azure Storage. As you progress, you should create an automated data ingestion pipeline to keep this data current. Options for an automated ingestion pipeline include Data Factory, Functions, and Logic Apps. Depending on the data stores and the schemas, you might use a combination of these approaches.
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.
Think about the possibilities: all developers regardless of expertise in data science able to build conversational AI that can enrich and expand the reach of applications to audiences across a myriad of conversational channels. The app will be able to understand natural language, reason about content and take intelligent actions. Bringing intelligent agents to developers and organizations that do not have expertise in data science is disruptive to the way humans interact with computers in their daily life and the way enterprises run their businesses with their customers and employees.
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.
How can our business leverage technology to better and more often engage younger audiences with our products and services? H&M is one of several retailers experimenting with and leveraging chatbots as a mobile marketing opportunity – according to a report by Accenture, 32 percent of the world (a large portion of the population 29 years old and younger) uses social media daily and 80 percent of that time is via mobile.
While messaging and voice interfaces are central components, they fit into a larger picture of increasing infusion of technology into our daily lives, which in turn is unlocking new potential for brand-to-consumer interaction. The fact is, technology overall is becoming more deeply woven into our lives, and the entire ecosystem is enjoying tighter cohesion through the increasing availability and sophistication of APIs. Smart companies are finding new and innovative touch points with consumers that are contextual, relevant, highly personal, and yes, conversational. Commerce is becoming not only more conversational but more ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into our lives, and the way we interact with brands will be forever changed as a result.
Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.