These are just a few of the most inspirational chatbot startups from the last year, with numerous others around the globe currently receiving acclaim for how quickly and innovatively they are using AI to change the world. With development becoming more intuitive and accessible to people all over the world, we can expect to see more startups using new technology to solve old problems.
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?"
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.
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.
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).
Developed to assist Nigerian students preparing for their secondary school exam, the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), SimbiBot is a chatbot that uses past exam questions to help students prepare for a variety of subjects. It offers multiple choice quizzes to help students test their knowledge, shows them where they went wrong, and even offers tips and advice based on how well the student is progressing.
A basic SMS service is available via GitHub to start building a bot which uses IBM’s BlueMix platform which hosts the Watson Conversation Services. A developer can import a workspace to setup a new service. This starts with a blank dashboard where a developer can import all the tools needed to run the conversation service. The services has a dialog flow – a series of options with yes/no answers that the service uses to work out what the user’s intent is, what entity it’s working on, how to respond and how to phrase the response in the best way for the user.
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.
Last, but not least coming in with the bot platform for business is FlowXO, which creates bots for Messenger, Slack, SMS, Telegraph and the web. This platform allows for creating various flexibility in bots by giving you the option to create a fully automated bot, human, or a hybrid of both. ChatBot expert Murray Newlands commented that "Where 10 years ago every company needed a website and five years ago every company needed an app, now every company needs to embrace messaging with AI and chatbots."
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.
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.
If a text-sending algorithm can pass itself off as a human instead of a chatbot, its message would be more credible. Therefore, human-seeming chatbots with well-crafted online identities could start scattering fake news that seem plausible, for instance making false claims during a presidential election. With enough chatbots, it might be even possible to achieve artificial social proof.
When considering potential uses, first assess the impact on resources. There are two options here: replacement or empowerment. Replacement is clearly easier as you don’t need to consider integration with existing processes and you can build from scratch. Empowerment enhances an existing process by making it more flexible, accommodating, accessible and simple for users.
Most chatbots try to mimic human interactions, which can frustrate users when a misunderstanding arises. Watson Assistant is more. It knows when to search for an answer from a knowledge base, when to ask for clarity, and when to direct you to a human. Watson Assistant can run on any cloud – allowing businesses to bring AI to their data and apps wherever they are.
Chatting with a bot should be like talking to a human that knows everything. If you're using a bot to change an airline reservation, the bot should know if you have an unused credit on your account and whether you typically pick the aisle or window seat. Artificial intelligence will continue to radically shape this front, but a bot should connect with your current systems so a shared contact record can drive personalization.
There are obvious revenue opportunities around subscriptions, advertising and commerce. If bots are designed to save you time that you’d normally spend on mundane tasks or interactions, it’s possible they’ll seem valuable enough to justify a subscription fee. If bots start to replace some of the functions that you’d normally use a search engine like Google for, it’s easy to imagine some sort of advertising component. Or if bots help you shop, the bot-maker could arrange for a commission.
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.