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.
1-800-Flowers’ 2017 first quarter results showed total revenues had increased 6.3 percent to $165.8 million, with the Company’s Gourmet Food and Gift Baskets business as a significant contributor. CEO Chris McCann stated, “…our Fannie May business recorded positive same store sales as well as solid eCommerce growth, reflecting the success of the initiatives we have implemented to enhance its performance.” While McCann doesn’t go into specifics, we assume that initiatives include the implementation of GWYN, which also seems to be supported by CB Insights’ finding: 70% of customers ordering through the chat bot were new 1-800-Flowers customers as of June 2016.
The sentiment analysis in machine learning uses language analytics to determine the attitude or emotional state of whom they are speaking to in any given situation. This has proven to be difficult for even the most advanced chatbot due to an inability to detect certain questions and comments from context. Developers are creating these bots to automate a wider range of processes in an increasingly human-like way and to continue to develop and learn over time.
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.
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.
Improve loyalty: By providing a responsive, efficient experience for customers, employees and partners, a chatbot will improve satisfaction and loyalty. Whether your chatbot answers questions about employees’ corporate benefits or provides answers to technical support questions, users can come away with a strengthened connection to your organization.
There are a bunch of e-commerce stores taking advantage of chatbots as well. One example that I was playing with was from Fynd that enables you to ask for specific products and they'll display them to you directly within Messenger. What's more, Facebook even allows you to make payments via Messenger bots, opening up a whole world of possibility to e-commerce stores.
Consider why someone would turn to a bot in the first place. According to an upcoming HubSpot research report, of the 71% of people willing to use messaging apps to get customer assistance, many do it because they want their problem solved, fast. And if you've ever used (or possibly profaned) Siri, you know there's a much lower tolerance for machines to make mistakes.
2a : a computer program that performs automatic repetitive tasks : agent sense 5 Several shopping "bots" will track down prices for on-line merchandise from a variety of vendors.— Sam Vincent Meddis especially : one designed to perform a malicious action These bot programs churn away all day and night, prodding at millions of random IP addresses looking for holes to crawl through. — Jennifer Tanaka
With last year’s refresh of AppleTV, Apple brought its Siri voice assistant to the center of the UI. You can now ask Siri to play your favorite TV shows, check the weather, search for and buy specific types of movies, and a variety of other specific tasks. Although far behind Amazon’s Echo in terms of breadth of functionality, Apple will no doubt expand Siri’s integration into AppleTV, and its likely that the company will introduce a new version of AppleTV that more directly competes with the Echo, perhaps with a voice remote control that is always listening for commands.
“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. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
“The chat space is sort of the last unpolluted space [on your phone],” said Sam Mandel, who works at the startup studio Betaworks and is also building a weather bot for Slack called Poncho. “It’s like the National Park of people’s online experience. Right now, the way people use chat services, it’s really a good private space that you control.” (That, of course, could quickly go sour if early implementations are too spammy or useless.)
Once you’ve determined these factors, you can develop the front-end web app or microservice. You might decide to integrate a chatbot into a customer support website where a customer clicks on an icon that immediately triggers a chatbot conversation. You could also integrate a chatbot into another communication channel, whether it’s Slack or Facebook Messenger. Building a “Slackbot,” for example, gives your users another way to get help or find information within a familiar interface.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011.  The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers. 
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.
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?"
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.