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.
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:
Chatbots can reply instantly to any questions. The waiting time is ‘virtually’ 0 (see what I did there?). Even if a real person eventually shows up to fix the issues, the customer gets engaged in the conversation, which can help you build trust. The problem could be better diagnosed, and the chatbot could perform some routine checks with the user. This saves up time for both the customer and the support agent. That’s a lot better than just recklessly waiting for a representative to arrive.
Its a chat-bot — For simplicity reasons in this article, it is assumed that the user will type in text and the bot would respond back with an appropriate message in the form of text (So, we will not be concerned with the aspects like ASR, speech recognition, speech to text, text to speech etc., Below architecture can anyways be enhanced with these components, as required).
One of the more talked about integrations has been Taco Bell‘s announcement that it is working on a Slackbot (appropriately named Tacobot) which will not only take your Gordita Supreme order but will do it with the same “witty personality you’d expect from Taco Bell.” Consumer demand for such a service remains to be seen, but it hints at the potential for brands to leverage Slack’s platform and growing audience.
Chatbots are often used online and in messaging apps, but are also now included in many operating systems as intelligent virtual assistants, such as Siri for Apple products and Cortana for Windows. Dedicated chatbot appliances are also becoming increasingly common, such as Amazon's Alexa. These chatbots can perform a wide variety of functions based on user commands.
Conversational bots can help a business’s customers with difficult transactions, plus collect data and give recommendations. For example, a conversational bot integrated to an airline’s website can answer questions regarding flight availability, rebook tickets, fees and suggest add-ons like hotels. Though a conversational bot may not be able to finish the exchanges, it could still be able to gather preliminary data and pass it on to the next available customer care agent. In both cases, the airline will save considerable time in its call center.
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!
With competitor Venmo already established, peer-to-peer payments is not in and of itself a compelling feature for Snapchat. However, adding wallet functionality and payment methods to the app does lay the groundwork for Snapchat to delve directly into commerce. The messaging app’s commerce strategy became more clear in April 2016 with its launch of shoppable stories with select partners in its Discover section. For the first time, while viewing video stories from Target and Lancome, users were able to “swipe up” to visit an e-commerce page embedded within the Snapchat app where they could purchase products from those partners.
These are hardly ideas of Hollywood’s science fiction. Even when the Starbucks bot can sound like Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha, the public will be unimpressed — we would prefer a real human interaction. Yet the public won’t have a choice; efficient task-oriented dialog agents will be the automatic vending machines and airport check-in kiosks of the near future.
“Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.” — Aaron Batalion, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
Several studies accomplished by analytics agencies such as Juniper or Gartner  report significant reduction of cost of customer services, leading to billions of dollars of economy in the next 10 years. Gartner predicts an integration by 2020 of chatbots in at least 85% of all client's applications to customer service. Juniper's study announces an impressive amount of $8 billion retained annually by 2022 due to the use of chatbots.