Amazon’s Echo device has been a surprise hit, reaching over 3M units sold in less than 18 months. Although part of this success can be attributed to the massive awareness-building power of the Amazon.com homepage, the device receives positive reviews from customers and experts alike, and has even prompted Google to develop its own version of the same device, Google Home.
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.
Shane Mac, CEO of San Francisco-based Assist,warned from challenges businesses face when trying to implement chatbots into their support teams: “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.
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.
In 1950, Alan Turing's famous article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" was published, which proposed what is now called the Turing test as a criterion of intelligence. This criterion depends on the ability of a computer program to impersonate a human in a real-time written conversation with a human judge, sufficiently well that the judge is unable to distinguish reliably—on the basis of the conversational content alone—between the program and a real human. The notoriety of Turing's proposed test stimulated great interest in Joseph Weizenbaum's program ELIZA, published in 1966, which seemed to be able to fool users into believing that they were conversing with a real human. However Weizenbaum himself did not claim that ELIZA was genuinely intelligent, and the introduction to his paper presented it more as a debunking exercise: