“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
The progressive advance of technology has seen an increase in businesses moving from traditional to digital platforms to transact with consumers. Convenience through technology is being carried out by businesses by implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques on their digital platforms. One AI technique that is growing in its application and use is chatbots. Some examples of chatbot technology are virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, and messaging apps, such as WeChat and Facebook messenger.
Generally, companies engage in passive customer interactions. That is, they only respond to inquiries but don’t start chats. AI bots can begin the conversation and inform customers about sales and promotions. Moreover, virtual assistants can offer product pages, images, blog entries, and video tutorials. Suppose a customer finds a nice pair of jeans on your website. In this case, a chatbot can send them a link to a page with T-shirts that go well with them.
This is the big one. We worked with one particular large publisher (can’t name names unfortunately, but hundreds of thousands of users) in two phases. We initially released a test phase that was sort of a “catch all”. Anyone could message a broad keyword to their bot and start a campaign. Although we had a huge number of users come in, engagement was relatively average (87% open rate and 27.05% click-through rate average over the course of the test). Drop off here was fairly high, about 3.14% of users had unsubscribed by the end of the test.
How far are we from building systems with commonsense? One often-heard answer is: not in the near future, while the realistic answer is: we don’t know. Last year, I spent some time trying to build a system that can do better than an information retrieval baseline in taking fourth-grade science exam (which still has a ways to go to gain a passing score of 65%). I failed hard. Here’s an example to get a sense of the difficulty of these questions.
“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. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
24/7 digital support. An instant and always accessible assistant is assumed by the more and more digital consumer of the new era. Unlike humans, chatbots once developed and installed don't have a limited workdays, holidays or weekends and are ready to attend queries at any hour of the day. It helps to the customer to avoid waiting of a company's agent to be available. Thus, the customer doesn't have to wait for the company executive to help them. This also lets companies keep an eye on the traffic during the non-working hours and reach out to them later.
However, since Magic simply connects you with human operators who carry our your requests, the service does not leverage AI to automate its processes, and thus the service is expensive and thus may lack mainstream potential. The company recently launched a premium service called Magic+ which gets you higher level service for $100 per hour, indicating that it sees its market among business executives and other wealthy customers.
Regardless of which type of classifier is used, the end-result is a response. Like a music box, there can be additional “movements” associated with the machinery. A response can make use of external information (like weather, a sports score, a web lookup, etc.) but this isn’t specific to chatbots, it’s just additional code. A response may reference specific “parts of speech” in the sentence, for example: a proper noun. Also the response (for an intent) can use conditional logic to provide different responses depending on the “state” of the conversation, this can be a random selection (to insert some ‘natural’ feeling).
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock.com, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app. In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly. These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.