2017 was the year that AI and chatbots took off in business, not just in developed nations, but across the whole world. Sage have reported that this global trend is boosting international collaboration between startups across all continents, such as the European Commission-backed Startup Europe Comes to Africa (SEC2A) which was held in November 2017.
Endurance is a companion chatbot that uses neurolinguistics programming (better known as NLP) to have friendly conversations with suspected patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It uses AI technology to maintain a lucid conversation while simultaneously testing the human user’s ability to remember information in different ways. The chatbot encourages the user to talk about their favorite activities, memories, music, etc. This doesn’t just test the person’s memory but actively promotes their ability to recall.
Why are chatbots important? A chatbot is often described as one of the most advanced and promising expressions of interaction between humans and machines. However, from a technological point of view, a chatbot only represents the natural evolution of a Question Answering system leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP). Formulating responses to questions in natural language is one of the most typical Examples of Natural Language Processing applied in various enterprises’ end-use applications.
The process of building a chatbot can be divided into two main tasks: understanding the user's intent and producing the correct answer. The first task involves understanding the user input. In order to properly understand a user input in a free text form, a Natural Language Processing Engine can be used. The second task may involve different approaches depending on the type of the response that the chatbot will generate.
Chatbots can strike up a conversation with any customer about any issue at any time of day. They engage in friendly interactions with customers. Besides, virtual assistants only give a bit of information at a time. This way they don’t tire customers with irrelevant and unnecessary information. Chatbots can maintain conversations and keep customers on your website longer.
Designing for conversational interfaces represents a big shift in the way we are used to thinking about interaction. Chatbots have less signifiers and affordances than websites and apps – which means words have to work harder to deliver clarity, cohesion and utility for the user. It is a change of paradigm that requires designers to re-wire their brain, their deliverables and their design process to create successful bot experiences.
Magic, launched in early 2015, is one of the earliest examples of conversational commerce by launching one of the first all-in-one intelligent virtual assistants as a service. Unique in that the service does not even have an app (you access it purely via SMS), Magic promises to be able to handle virtually any task you send it — almost like a human executive assistant. Based on user and press accounts, Magic seems to be able to successfully carry out a variety of odd tasks from setting up flight reservations to ordering hard-to-find food items.
There is no one right answer to this question, as the best solution will depend upon the specifics of your scenario and how the user would reasonably expect the bot to respond. However, as your conversation complexity increases dialogs become harder to manage. For complex branchings situations, it may be easier to create your own flow of control logic to keep track of your user's conversation.
We then ran a second test with a very specific topic aimed at answering very specific questions that a small segment of their audience was interested in. There, the engagement was much higher (97% open rate, 52% click-through rate on average over the duration of the test). Interestingly, drop-off went wayyy down there. At the end of this test, only 0.29% of the users had unsubscribed.
Malicious chatbots are frequently used to fill chat rooms with spam and advertisements, by mimicking human behaviour and conversations or to entice people into revealing personal information, such as bank account numbers. They are commonly found on Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and other instant messaging protocols. There has also been a published report of a chatbot used in a fake personal ad on a dating service's website.
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.
“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.”
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
Students from different backgrounds can share their views and perspectives on a specific matter while a chatbot can still adapt to each one of them individually. Chatbots can improve engagement among students and encourage interaction with the rest of the class by assigning group work and projects - similarly to what teachers usually do in regular classes.
Respect the conversational UI. The full interaction should take place natively within the app. The goal is to recognize the user's intent and provide the right content with minimum user input. Every question asked should bring the user closer to the answer they want. If you need so much information that you're playing a game of 20 Questions, then switch to a form and deliver the content another way.
There is a general worry that the bot can’t understand the intent of the customer. The bots are first trained with the actual data. Most companies that already have a chatbot must be having logs of conversations. Developers use that logs to analyze what customers are trying to ask and what does that mean. With a combination of Machine Learning models and tools built, developers match questions that customer asks and answers with the best suitable answer. For example: If a customer is asking “Where is my payment receipt?” and “I have not received a payment receipt”, mean the same thing. Developers strength is in training the models so that the chatbot is able to connect both of those questions to correct intent and as an output produces the correct answer. If there is no extensive data available, different APIs data can be used to train the chatbot.
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.
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 $2, maybe $3, and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
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.