Facebook has jumped fully on the conversational commerce bandwagon and is betting big that it can turn its popular Messenger app into a business messaging powerhouse. The company first integrated peer-to-peer payments into Messenger in 2015, and then launched a full chatbot API so businesses can create interactions for customers to occur within the Facebook Messenger app. You can order flowers from 1–800-Flowers, browse the latest fashion and make purchases from Spring, and order an Uber, all from within a Messenger chat.
The chatbot uses keywords that users type in the chat line and guesses what they may be looking for. For example, if you own a restaurant that has vegan options on the menu, you might program the word “vegan” into the bot. Then when users type in that word, the return message will include vegan options from the menu or point out the menu section that features these dishes.
This is a lot less complicated than it appears. Given a set of sentences, each belonging to a class, and a new input sentence, we can count the occurrence of each word in each class, account for its commonality and assign each class a score. Factoring for commonality is important: matching the word “it” is considerably less meaningful than a match for the word “cheese”. The class with the highest score is the one most likely to belong to the input sentence. This is a slight oversimplification as words need to be reduced to their stems, but you get the basic idea.
Lack contextual awareness. Not everyone has all of the data that Google has – but chatbots today lack the awareness that we expect them to have. We assume that chatbot technology will know our IP address, browsing history, previous purchases, but that is just not the case today. I would argue that many chatbots even lack basic connection to other data silos to improve their ability to answer questions.
From any point in the conversation, the bot needs to know where to go next. If a user writes, “I’m looking for new pants,” the bot might ask, “For a man or woman?” The user may type, “For a woman.” Does the bot then ask about size, style, brand, or color? What if one of those modifiers was already specified in the query? The possibilities are endless, and every one of them has to be mapped with rules.
While AppleTV’s commerce capabilities are currently limited to purchasing media from iTunes, it seems likely that Siri’s capabilities would be extended to tvOS apps so app developers will be able to support voice commands from AppleTV directly within their apps. Imagine using voice commands to navigate through Netflix, browse the your Fancy shopping feed, or plan a trip using Tripadvisor on AppleTV — the potential for app developers will be significant if Apple extends its developer platform further into the home through AppleTV and Siri.
Botsify is another Facebook chatbot platform that helps make it easy to integrate chatbots into the system. Its paid subscription helps you in five easy steps. 1) Log into the botsify.com site, 2) Connect your Facebook account, 3) Setup a webhook, 4) Write up commands for the chatbot you are creating, and 5) Let Botisfy handle the customer service for you. If the paid services are a little too much, they do offer a free service that lets you create as many bots as your lovely imagination can dream up.
“HubSpot's GrowthBot is an all-in-one chatbot which helps marketers and sales people be more productive by providing access to relevant data and services using a conversational interface. With GrowthBot, marketers can get help creating content, researching competitors, and monitoring their analytics. Through Amazon Lex, we're adding sophisticated natural language processing capabilities that helps GrowthBot provide a more intuitive UI for our users. Amazon Lex lets us take advantage of advanced AI and machine learning without having to code the algorithms ourselves.”
Think about the possibilities: all developers regardless of expertise in data science able to build conversational AI that can enrich and expand the reach of applications to audiences across a myriad of conversational channels. The app will be able to understand natural language, reason about content and take intelligent actions. Bringing intelligent agents to developers and organizations that do not have expertise in data science is disruptive to the way humans interact with computers in their daily life and the way enterprises run their businesses with their customers and employees.
It may be tempting to assume that users will perform procedural tasks one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, in a procedural conversation flow using dialogs, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
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.
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.