The most advanced bots are powered by artificial intelligence, helping it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It's as simple as ordering a list of if-then statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.
Back in April, National Geographic launched a Facebook Messenger bot to promote their new show about the theoretical physicist's work and personal life. Developed by 360i, the charismatic Einstein bot reintroduced audiences to the scientific figure in a more intimate setting, inviting them to learn about the lesser-known aspects of his life through a friendly, natural conversation with the man himself.
Amazon’s Echo device has been a surprise hit, reaching over 3M units sold in less than 18 months. Although part of this success can be attributed to the massive awareness-building power of the Amazon.com homepage, the device receives positive reviews from customers and experts alike, and has even prompted Google to develop its own version of the same device, Google Home.
2. Flow-based: these work on user interaction with buttons and text. If you have used Matthew’s chatbot, that is a flow-based chatbot. The chatbot asks a question then offers options in the form of buttons (Matthew’s has a yes/no option). These are more limited, but you get the possibility of really driving down the conversation and making sure your users don’t stray off the path.
Web site: From Russia With Love. PDF. 2007-12-09. Psychologist and Scientific American: Mind contributing editor Robert Epstein reports how he was initially fooled by a chatterbot posing as an attractive girl in a personal ad he answered on a dating website. In the ad, the girl portrayed herself as being in Southern California and then soon revealed, in poor English, that she was actually in Russia. He became suspicious after a couple of months of email exchanges, sent her an email test of gibberish, and she still replied in general terms. The dating website is not named. Scientific American: Mind, October–November 2007, page 16–17, "From Russia With Love: How I got fooled (and somewhat humiliated) by a computer". Also available online.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.
ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
“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.)
In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.
As digital continues to rewrite the rules of engagement across industries and markets, a new competitive reality is emerging: “Being digital” soon won’t be enough. Organizations will use artificial intelligence and other technologies to help them make faster, more informed decisions, become far more efficient, and craft more personalized and relevant experiences for both customers and employees.
“I believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second. A lot of the dreamers are science fiction authors, they’re artists…They invent these ideas, and they get catalogued as impossible. And we find out later, well, maybe it’s not impossible. Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.”
A chatbot works in a couple of ways: set guidelines and machine learning. A chatbot that functions with a set of guidelines in place is limited in its conversation. It can only respond to a set number of requests and vocabulary, and is only as intelligent as its programming code. An example of a limited bot is an automated banking bot that asks the caller some questions to understand what the caller wants done. The bot would make a command like “Please tell me what I can do for you by saying account balances, account transfer, or bill payment.” If the customer responds with "credit card balance," the bot would not understand the request and would proceed to either repeat the command or transfer the caller to a human assistant.
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.
The biggest benefit of having a conversational AI solution is the instant response rate. Answering queries within an hour translates into 7X increase in the likelihood of converting a lead. Customers are more likely to talk about a negative experience than a positive one. So nipping a negative review right in the bud is going to help improve your product’s brand standing.
In our research, we collaborate with a strong network of national and international partners from academia and industry. We aim to bring together different people with different skill sets and expertise to engage in innovative research projects and to strengthen the exchange between research and practice. Our partnerships can take various forms, including project-based collaboration, research scholarships, and publicly funded projects.
Yes, witty banter is a plus. But, the ultimate mission of a bot is to provide a service people actually want to use. As long as you think of your bot as just another communication channel, your focus will be misguided. The best bots harness the micro-decisions consumers experience on a daily basis and see them as an opportunity to help. Whether it's adjusting a reservation, updating the shipping info for an order, or giving medical advice, bots provide a solution when people need it most.
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.