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.
Want to initiate the conversation with customers from your Facebook page rather than wait for them to come to you? Facebook lets you do that. You can load email addresses and phone numbers from your subscriber list into custom Facebook audiences. To discourage spam, Facebook charges a fee to use this service. You can then send a message directly from your page to the audience you created.
Some bots communicate with other users of Internet-based services, via instant messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or another web interface such as Facebook Bots and Twitterbots. These chatterbots may allow people to ask questions in plain English and then formulate a proper response. These bots can often handle many tasks, including reporting weather, zip-code information, sports scores, converting currency or other units, etc. Others are used for entertainment, such as SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger.
The classification score produced identifies the class with the highest term matches (accounting for commonality of words) but this has limitations. A score is not the same as a probability, a score tells us which intent is most like the sentence but not the likelihood of it being a match. Thus it is difficult to apply a threshold for which classification scores to accept or not. Having the highest score from this type of algorithm only provides a relative basis, it may still be an inherently weak classification. Also the algorithm doesn’t account for what a sentence is not, it only counts what it is like. You might say this approach doesn’t consider what makes a sentence not a given class.
Alternatively, think about the times you are chatting with a colleague over Slack. The need to find relevant information typically happens during conversations, and instead of having to go to a browser to start searching, you could simply summon your friendly Slack chatbot and get it to do the work for you. Think of it as your own personal podcast producer – pulling up documents, facts, and data at the drop of a hat. This concept can be translated into the virtual assistants we use on the daily. Think about an ambient assistant like Alexa or Google Home that could just be part of a group conversation. Or your trusted assistant taking notes and actions during a meeting.
Magic, launched in early 2015, is one of the earliest examples of conversational commerce by launching one of the first all-in-one intelligent virtual assistants as a service. Unique in that the service does not even have an app (you access it purely via SMS), Magic promises to be able to handle virtually any task you send it — almost like a human executive assistant. Based on user and press accounts, Magic seems to be able to successfully carry out a variety of odd tasks from setting up flight reservations to ordering hard-to-find food items.
Chatbots could be used as weapons on the social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. An entity or individuals could design create a countless number of chatbots to harass people. They could even try to track how successful their harassment is by using machine-learning-based methods to sharpen their strategies and counteract harassment detection tools.
The market shapes customer behavior. Gartner predicts that “40% of mobile interactions will be managed by smart agents by 2020.” Every single business out there today either has a chatbot already or is considering one. 30% of customers expect to see a live chat option on your website. Three out of 10 consumers would give up phone calls to use messaging. As more and more customers begin expecting your company to have a direct way to contact you, it makes sense to have a touch point on a messenger.
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.
When you have a desperate need for a java fix with minimal human interaction and effort, this bot has you covered. According to a demo led by Gerri Martin-Flickinger, the coffee chain's chief technology officer, the bot even understands complex orders with special requests, like "double upside down macchiato half decaf with room and a splash of cream in a grande cup."
As with many 'organic' channels, the relative reach of your audience tends to decline over time due to a variety of factors. In email's case, it can be the over-exposure to marketing emails and moves from email providers to filter out promotional content; with other channels it can be the platform itself. Back in 2014 I wrote about how "Facebook's Likes Don't Matter Anymore" in relation to the declining organic reach of Facebook pages. Last year alone the organic reach of publishers on Facebook fell by a further 52%.
In a traditional application, the user interface (UI) is a series of screens. A single app or website can use one or more screens as needed to exchange information with the user. Most applications start with a main screen where users initially land and provide navigation that leads to other screens for various functions like starting a new order, browsing products, or looking for help.
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".