“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.)
These are hardly ideas of Hollywood’s science fiction. Even when the Starbucks bot can sound like Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha, the public will be unimpressed — we would prefer a real human interaction. Yet the public won’t have a choice; efficient task-oriented dialog agents will be the automatic vending machines and airport check-in kiosks of the near future.
Google, the company with perhaps the greatest artificial intelligence chops and the biggest collection of data about you — both of which power effective bots — has been behind here. But it is almost certainly plotting ways to catch up. Google Now, its personal assistant system built within Android, serves many functions of the new wave of bots, but has had hiccups. The company is reportedly working on a chatbot that will live in a mobile messaging product and is experimenting with ways to integrate Now deeper with search.
There are a bunch of e-commerce stores taking advantage of chatbots as well. One example that I was playing with was from Fynd that enables you to ask for specific products and they'll display them to you directly within Messenger. What's more, Facebook even allows you to make payments via Messenger bots, opening up a whole world of possibility to e-commerce stores.
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".