Eventually, a single chatbot could become your own personal assistant to take care of everything, whether it's calling you an Uber or setting up a meeting. Or, Facebook Messenger or another platform might let a bunch of individual chatbots to talk to you about whatever is relevant — a chatbot from Southwest Airlines could tell you your flight's delayed, another chatbot from FedEx could tell you your package is on the way, and so on.
The most advanced bots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It's as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
More and more businesses are choosing AI chatbots as part of their customer service team. There are several reasons for that. Chatbots can answer customers’ inquiries cheaply, quickly, in real-time. Another reason is the ease of installation of such chatbot: once you have a fine live chat app, it takes a couple of minutes to integrate a chatbot with it.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
It takes bold visionaries and risk-takers to build future technologies into realities. In the field of chatbots, there are many companies across the globe working on this mission. Our mega list of artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and chatbot companies, covers the top companies and startups who are innovating in this space.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock.com, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app. In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly. These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.
I know what you’re thinking – when will the world of marketing just stand still for a moment and let us all catch up?!?! No such luck, dear readers. No sooner have we all gotten to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to start building live video campaigns into our content marketing strategies, something else comes along that promises to be the next game-changer. And so here we are with the most recent marketing phenomenon – chatbots.
Founded by Pavel Durov, creator of Russia’s equivalent to Facebook, Telegram launched in 2013 as a lightweight messaging app to combine the speed of WhatsApp with the ephemerality of Snapchat along with claimed enhanced privacy and security through its use of the MTProto protocol (Telegram has offered a $200k prize to any developer who can crack MTProto’s security). Telegram has 100M MAUs, putting it in the second tier of messaging apps in terms of popularity.
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
Although NBC Politics Bot was a little rudimentary in terms of its interactions, this particular application of chatbot technology could well become a lot more popular in the coming years – particularly as audiences struggle to keep up with the enormous volume of news content being published every day. The bot also helped NBC determine what content most resonated with users, which the network will use to further tailor and refine its content to users in the future.
Utility bots solve a user's problem, whatever that may be, via a user-prompted transaction. The most obvious example is a shopping bot, such as one that helps you order flowers or buy a new jacket. According to a recent HubSpot Research study, 47% of shoppers are open to buying items from a bot. But utility bots are not limited to making purchases. A utility bot could automatically book meetings by scanning your emails or notify you of the payment subscriptions you forgot you were signed up for.
As AOL's David Shingy writes in Adweek, "The challenge [with chatbots] will be thinking about creative from a whole different view: Can we have creative that scales? That customizes itself? We find ourselves hurtling toward another handoff from man to machine -- what larger system of creative or complex storytelling structure can I design such that a machine can use it appropriately and effectively?"
What if you’re creating a bot for a major online clothing retailer? For starters, the bot will require a greeting (“How can I help you?”) as well as a process for saying its goodbyes. In between, the bot needs to respond to inputs, which could range from shopping inquiries to questions about shipping rates or return policies, and the bot must possess a script for fielding questions it doesn’t understand.
“I believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second. A lot of the dreamers are science fiction authors, they’re artists…They invent these ideas, and they get catalogued as impossible. And we find out later, well, maybe it’s not impossible. Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.”
Can we provide a better way of doing business that transforms an arduous “elephant-in-the-room” process or task into one that allows all involved parties to stay active and engaged? As stated by Grayevsky, “I saw a huge opportunity to design a technology platform for both job seekers and employers that could fill the gaping ‘black hole’ in recruitment and deliver better results to both sides.”
Back to our earlier example, if a bot doesn’t know the word trousers and a user corrects the input to pants, the bot will remember the connection between those two words in the future. The more words and connections that a bot is exposed to, the smarter it gets. This process is similar to that of human learning. Our capacity for memory and synthesis is part of what makes us unique, and we’re teaching our best tricks to bots.
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.
Another option is to integrate your own custom AI service. This approach is more complex, but gives you complete flexibility in terms of the machine learning algorithm, training, and model. For example, you could implement your own topic modeling and use algorithm such as LDA to find similar or relevant documents. A good approach is to expose your custom AI solution as a web service endpoint, and call the endpoint from the core bot logic. The web service could be hosted in App Service or in a cluster of VMs. Azure Machine Learning provides a number of services and libraries to assist you in training and deploying your models.
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
Chatbots can perform a range of simple transactions. Telegram bots let users transfer money, buy train tickets, book hotel rooms, and more. AI chatbots are especially sought-after in the retail industry. WholeFoods, a healthy food store chain in the US, uses a chatbot to help customers find the nearest store. The 1-800-Flowers chatbot lets customers order flowers and gifts. In the image below, you can see more ways you might use AI chatbots for your business.
As in the prior method, each class is given with some number of example sentences. Once again each sentence is broken down by word (stemmed) and each word becomes an input for the neural network. The synaptic weights are then calculated by iterating through the training data thousands of times, each time adjusting the weights slightly to greater accuracy. By recalculating back across multiple layers (“back-propagation”) the weights of all synapses are calibrated while the results are compared to the training data output. These weights are like a ‘strength’ measure, in a neuron the synaptic weight is what causes something to be more memorable than not. You remember a thing more because you’ve seen it more times: each time the ‘weight’ increases slightly.
Message generator component consists of several user defined templates (templates are nothing but sentences with some placeholders, as appropriate) that map to the action names. So depending on the action predicted by the dialogue manager, the respective template message is invoked. If the template requires some placeholder values to be filled up, those values are also passed by the dialogue manager to the generator. Then the appropriate message is displayed to the user and the bot goes into a wait mode listening for the user input.
Before you even write a single line of code, it's important to write a functional specification so the development team has a clear idea of what the bot is expected to do. The specification should include a reasonably comprehensive list of user inputs and expected bot responses in various knowledge domains. This living document will be an invaluable guide for developing and testing your bot.