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.
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.
As IBM elaborates: “The front-end app you develop will interact with an AI application. That AI application — usually a hosted service — is the component that interprets user data, directs the flow of the conversation and gathers the information needed for responses. You can then implement the business logic and any other components needed to enable conversations and deliver results.”
Modern chatbots are frequently used in situations in which simple interactions with only a limited range of responses are needed. This can include customer service and marketing applications, where the chatbots can provide answers to questions on topics such as products, services or company policies. If a customer's questions exceed the abilities of the chatbot, that customer is usually escalated to a human operator.
There is no one right answer to this question, as the best solution will depend upon the specifics of your scenario and how the user would reasonably expect the bot to respond. However, as your conversation complexity increases dialogs become harder to manage. For complex branchings situations, it may be easier to create your own flow of control logic to keep track of your user's conversation.
To envision the future of chatbots/virtual assistants, we need to take a quick trip down memory lane. Remember Clippy? Love him or hate him, he’s ingrained in our memory as the little assistant who couldn’t (sorry, Clippy.). But someday, this paper clip could be the chosen one. Imagine with me if you will a support agent speaking with a customer over the phone, or even chat support. Clippy could be listening in, reviewing the questions the customer is posing, and proactively providing relevant content to the support agent. Instead of digging around from system to system, good ‘ole Clippy would have their back, saving them the trouble of hunting down relevant information needed for the task at hand.
A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the man-power or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.
The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).