If you visit a Singapore government website in the near future, chances are you’ll be using a chatbot to access the services you need, as part of the country’s Smart Nation initiative. In Australia, Deakin University students now access campus services using its ‘Genie’ virtual assistant platform, made up of chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition and predictive analytics.
You may remember Facebook’s big chatbot push in 2016 – when they announced that they were opening up the Messenger platform to chatbots of all varieties. Every organization suddenly needed to get their hands on the technology. The idea of having conversational chatbot technology was enthralling, but behind all the glitz, glamour and tech sex appeal, was something a little bit less exciting. To quote Gizmodo writer, Darren Orf:
When we open our news feed and find out about yet another AI breakthrough—IBM Watson, driverless cars, AlphaGo — the notion of TODA may feel decidedly anti-climatic. The reality is that the current AI is not quite 100% turnkey-ready for TODA. This will soon change due to two key factors: 1) businesses want it, and 2) businesses have abundant data, the fuel that the current state-of-the-art machine learning techniques need to make AI work.
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
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.
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Unlike Tay, Xiaoice remembers little bits of conversation, like a breakup with a boyfriend, and will ask you how you're feeling about it. Now, millions of young teens are texting her every day to help cheer them up and unburden their feelings — and Xiaoice remembers just enough to help keep the conversation going. Young Chinese people are spending hours chatting with Xiaoice, even telling the bot "I love you".
Simple chatbots, or bots, are easy to build. In fact, many coders have automated bot-building processes and templates. The majority of these processes follow simple code formulas that the designer plans, and the bots provide the responses coded into it—and only those responses. Simplistic bots (built in five minutes or less) typically respond to one or two very specific commands.
When one dialog invokes another, the Bot Builder adds the new dialog to the top of the dialog stack. The dialog that is on top of the stack is in control of the conversation. Every new message sent by the user will be subject to processing by that dialog until it either closes or redirects to another dialog. When a dialog closes, it's removed from the stack, and the previous dialog in the stack assumes control of the conversation.
Chatbots are used in a variety of sectors and built for different purposes. There are retail bots designed to pick and order groceries, weather bots that give you weather forecast of the day or week, and simply friendly bots that just talk to people in need of a friend. The fintech sector also uses chatbots to make consumers’ inquiries and application for financial services easier. A small business lender in Montreal, Thinking Capital, uses a virtual assistant to provide customers with 24/7 assistance through the Facebook Messenger. A small business hoping to get a loan from the company need only answer key qualification questions asked by the bot in order to be deemed eligible to receive up to $300,000 in financing.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.
H&M’s consistent increased sales over the past year and its August announcement to launch an eCommerce presence in Canada and South Korea during the fall of 2016, along with 11 new H&M online markets (for a total of 35 markets by the end of the year), appear to signify positive results for its chatbot implementation (though direct correlations are unavailable on its website).
aLVin is built on the foundation of Nuance’s Nina, the intelligent multichannel virtual assistant that leverages natural language understanding (NLU) and cognitive computing capabilities. aLVin interacts with brokers to better understand “intent” and deliver the right information 24/7; the chatbot was built with extensive knowledge of LV=Broker’s products, which accelerated the process of being able to answer more questions and direct brokers to the right products early on
Smart chatbots rely on artificial intelligence when they communicate with users. Instead of pre-prepared answers, the robot responds with adequate suggestions on the topic. In addition, all the words said by the customers are recorded for later processing. However, the Forrester report “The State of Chatbots” points out that artificial intelligence is not a magic and is not yet ready to produce marvelous experiences for users on its own. On the contrary, it requires a huge work:
It may be tempting to assume that users will navigate across dialogs, creating a dialog stack, and at some point will navigate back in the direction they came from, unstacking the dialogs one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, 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.
Malicious chatbots are frequently used to fill chat rooms with spam and advertisements, by mimicking human behavior 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.