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.
To keep chatbots up to speed with changing company products and services, traditional chatbot development platforms require ongoing maintenance. This can either be in the form of an ongoing service provider or for larger enterprises in the form of an in-house chatbot training team. To eliminate these costs, some startups are experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to develop self-learning chatbots, particularly in Customer Service applications.
For as long as I can remember, email has been a fundamentally important channel for a large majority of businesses. The ability to market products directly through a channel that scales up to an incredibly high ceiling is very attractive. The only problem is that it's costing more and more money to acquire email addresses from potential customers, and the engagement from email is getting worse and worse.
Chatbots have been used in instant messaging (IM) applications and online interactive games for many years but have recently segued into business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sales and services. Chatbots can be added to a buddy list or provide a single game player with an entity to interact with while awaiting other "live" players. If the bot is sophisticated enough to pass the Turing test, the person may not even know they are interacting with a computer program.
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
For every question or instruction input to the conversational bot, there must exist a specific pattern in the database to provide a suitable response. Where there are several combinations of patterns available, and a hierarchical pattern is created. In these cases, algorithms are used to reduce the classifiers and generate a structure that is more manageable. This is the “reductionist” approach—or, in other words, to have a simplified solution, it reduces the problem.
Through Knowledge Graph, Google search has already become amazingly good at understanding the context and meaning of your queries, and it is getting better at natural language queries. With its massive scale in data and years of working at the very hard problems of natural language processing, the company has a clear path to making Allo’s conversational commerce capabilities second to none.
One of the first stepping stones to this future are AI-powered messaging solutions, or conversational bots. A conversational bot is a computer program that works automatically and is skilled in communicating through various digital media—including intelligent virtual agents, organizations' apps, organizations' websites, social platforms and messenger platforms. Users can interact with such bots, using voice or text, to access information, complete tasks or execute transactions.
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
Rather than having the campaign speak for Einstein, we wanted Einstein to speak for himself, Layne Harris, 360i’s VP, Head of Innovation Technology, said to GeoMarketing. "We decided to pursue a conversational chatbot that would feel natural and speak as Einstein would. This provides a more intimate and immersive experience for users to really connect with him one on one and organically discover more content from the show."
If your interaction with a conversational bot is through a specific menu (where you interact through buttons but the bot does not understand natural language input), chances are you are talking to a bot with structured questions and responses. This type of bot is usually applied on messenger platforms for marketing purposes. They are great at conducting surveys, generating leads, and sending daily content pieces or newsletters.
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.