Having a conversation with a computer might have seemed like science fiction even a few years ago. But now, most of us already use chatbots for a variety of tasks. For example, as end users, we ask the virtual assistant on our smartphones to find a local restaurant and provide directions. Or, we use an online banking chatbot for help with a loan application.
Niki is a personal assistant that has been developed in India to perform an impressively wide variety of tasks, including booking taxis, buses, hotels, movies and events, paying utilities and recharging your phone, and even organizing laundry pickup and delivery. The application has proven to be a huge success across India and won the Deep Tech prize at the 2017 AWS Mobility Awards.
Just last month, Google launched its latest Google Assistant. To help readers get a better glimpse of the redesign, Google’s Scott Huffman explained: “Since the Assistant can do so many things, we’re introducing a new way to talk about them. We’re them Actions. Actions include features built by Google—like directions on Google Maps—and those that come from developers, publishers, and other third parties, like working out with Fitbit Coach.”
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".