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.
If you visit a Singapore government website in the near future, chances are you’ll be using a chatbot to access the services you need, as part of the country’s Smart Nation initiative. In Australia, Deakin University students now access campus services using its ‘Genie’ virtual assistant platform, made up of chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition and predictive analytics.
A chatbot that functions through machine learning has an artificial neural network inspired by the neural nodes of the human brain. The bot is programmed to self-learn as it is introduced to new dialogues and words. In effect, as a chatbot receives new voice or textual dialogues, the number of inquiries that it can reply and the accuracy of each response it gives increases. Facebook has a machine learning chatbot that creates a platform for companies to interact with their consumers through the Facebook Messenger application. Using the Messenger bot, users can buy shoes from Spring, order a ride from Uber, and have election conversations with the New York Times which used the Messenger bot to cover the 2016 presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. If a user asked the New York Times through his/her app a question like “What’s new today?” or “What do the polls say?” the bot would reply to the request.
Kik is one of the most popular chat apps among teens with 275M MAUs and 40% of those are in the 13–24 year old demographic. In April, Kik launched its own bot store with 16 launch partners including Sephora, H&M, Vine, the Weather Channel, and Funny or Die. Using Kik’s bots currently feel like using the internet in 1994, very rough around the edges and limited functionality / usefulness. However, we’ll see how their API and bots progress over time, Kik’s popularity among an attractive demographic might convince some brands to invest in the platform.
Chatbots currently operate through a number of channels, including web, within apps, and on messaging platforms. They also work across the spectrum from digital commerce to banking using bots for research, lead generation, and brand awareness. An increasing amount of businesses are experimenting with chatbots for e-commerce, customer service, and content delivery.
It’s not all doom and gloom for chatbots. Chatbots are a stopgap until virtual assistants are able to tackle all of our questions and concerns, regardless of the site or platform. Virtual assistants will eventually connect to everything in your digital life, from websites to IoT-enabled devices. Rather than going through different websites and speaking to various different chatbots, the virtual assistant will be the platform for finding the answers you need. If these assistants are doing such a good job, why would you even bother to use a branded chatbot? Realistically this won’t take place for sometime, due to the fragmentation of the marketplace.
Simply put, chatbots are computer programs designed to have conversations with human users. Chances are you’ve interacted with one. They answer questions, guide you through a purchase, provide technical support, and can even teach you a new language. You can find them on devices, websites, text messages, and messaging apps—in other words, they’re everywhere.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008[27] or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011.[27][28] 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.[29][30]
Like apps and websites, bots have a UI, but it is made up of dialogs, rather than screens. Dialogs help preserve your place within a conversation, prompt users when needed, and execute input validation. They are useful for managing multi-turn conversations and simple "forms-based" collections of information to accomplish activities such as booking a flight.
The bot itself is only part of a larger system that provides it with the latest data and ensures its proper operation. All of these other Azure resources — data orchestration services such as Data Factory, storage services such as Cosmos DB, and so forth — must be deployed. Azure Resource Manager provides a consistent management layer that you can access through the Azure portal, PowerShell, or the Azure CLI. For speed and consistency, it's best to automate your deployment using one of these approaches.
Authentication. Users start by authenticating themselves using whatever mechanism is provided by their channel of communication with the bot. The bot framework supports many communication channels, including Cortana, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack. For a list of channels, see Connect a bot to channels. When you create a bot with Azure Bot Service, the Web Chat channel is automatically configured. This channel allows users to interact with your bot directly in a web page. You can also connect the bot to a custom app by using the Direct Line channel. The user's identity is used to provide role-based access control, as well as to serve personalized content.

Improve loyalty: By providing a responsive, efficient experience for customers, employees and partners, a chatbot will improve satisfaction and loyalty. Whether your chatbot answers questions about employees’ corporate benefits or provides answers to technical support questions, users can come away with a strengthened connection to your organization.

I argued that it is super hard to scale a one-trick TODA into a general assistant that helps the user getting things done across multiple tasks. An intelligence assistant is arguably expected to hold an informal chit-chat with the user. It is this area where we are staring into perhaps the biggest challenge of AI. Observe how Samantha introduces herself to Joaquin Phoenix’s Ted in the clip below:
I know what you’re thinking – when will the world of marketing just stand still for a moment and let us all catch up?!?! No such luck, dear readers. No sooner have we all gotten to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to start building live video campaigns into our content marketing strategies, something else comes along that promises to be the next game-changer. And so here we are with the most recent marketing phenomenon – chatbots.

As retrieved from Forbes, Salesforce’s chief scientist, Richard Socher talked in a conference about his revelations of NLP and machine translation: “I can’t speak for all chatbot deployments in the world – there are some that aren’t done very well…but in our case we’ve heard very positive feedback because when a bot correctly answers questions or fills your requirements it does it very, very fast.
Spot is a chatbot developed by Criminal Psychologist Julia Shaw at the University College London. Using memory science and AI, Spot doesn’t just allow users to report workplace harassment and bullying, but is capable of asking personalized, open-ended questions to help you recall details about events that made you feel uncomfortable. The application helps users process what happened, to understand whether or not they experienced harassment or discrimination and offers advice on how they can take matters further.
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.
Feine, J., Morana, S., and Maedche, A. (2019). “Leveraging Machine-Executable Descriptive Knowledge in Design Science Research ‐ The Case of Designing Socially-Adaptive Chatbots”. In: Extending the Boundaries of Design Science Theory and Practice. Ed. by B. Tulu, S. Djamasbi, G. Leroy. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 76–91. Download Publication
I would like to extend an invitation to business leaders facing similar challenges to IoT Exchange in Sydney on 23-24 July 2019. It’s a great opportunity to engage in stimulating discussions with IBM staff, business partners and customers, and to network with your peers. You’ll participate in two full days of learning about new technologies through 40 information packed sessions. ...read more

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').[9] 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".
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