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.
A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the man-power or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
Chatbots could be used as weapons on the social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. An entity or individuals could design create a countless number of chatbots to harass people. They could even try to track how successful their harassment is by using machine-learning-based methods to sharpen their strategies and counteract harassment detection tools.
Unfortunately, my mom can’t really engage in meaningful conversations anymore, but many people suffering with dementia retain much of their conversational abilities as their illness progresses. However, the shame and frustration that many dementia sufferers experience often make routine, everyday talks with even close family members challenging. That’s why Russian technology company Endurance developed its companion chatbot.
The trained neural network is less code than an comparable algorithm but it requires a potentially large matrix of “weights”. In a relatively small sample, where the training sentences have 150 unique words and 30 classes this would be a matrix of 150x30. Imagine multiplying a matrix of this size 100,000 times to establish a sufficiently low error rate. This is where processing speed comes in.

For starters, he was the former president of PayPal. And he once founded a mobile media monetization firm. And he also founded a company that facilitated mobile phone payments. And then he helped Facebook acquire Braintree, which invented Venmo. And then he invented Messenger’s P2P payment platform. And then he was appointed to the board of directors at Coinbase.


1-800-Flowers’ 2017 first quarter results showed total revenues had increased 6.3 percent to $165.8 million, with the Company’s Gourmet Food and Gift Baskets business as a significant contributor. CEO Chris McCann stated, “…our Fannie May business recorded positive same store sales as well as solid eCommerce growth, reflecting the success of the initiatives we have implemented to enhance its performance.” While McCann doesn’t go into specifics, we assume that initiatives include the implementation of GWYN, which also seems to be supported by CB Insights’ finding: 70% of customers ordering through the chat bot were new 1-800-Flowers customers as of June 2016.
The goal of intent-based bots is to solve user queries on a one to one basis. With each question answered it can adapt to the user behavior. The more data the bots receive, the more intelligent they become. Great examples of intent-based bots are Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. The bot has the ability to extract contextual information such as location, and state information like chat history, to suggest appropriate solutions in a specific situation.
Derived from “chat robot”, "chatbots" allow for highly engaging, conversational experiences, through voice and text, that can be customized and used on mobile devices, web browsers, and on popular chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger, or Slack. With the advent of deep learning technologies such as text-to-speech, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing, chatbots that simulate human conversation and dialogue can now be found in call center and customer service workflows, DevOps management, and as personal assistants.
When one dialog invokes another, the Bot Builder adds the new dialog to the top of the dialog stack. The dialog that is on top of the stack is in control of the conversation. Every new message sent by the user will be subject to processing by that dialog until it either closes or redirects to another dialog. When a dialog closes, it's removed from the stack, and the previous dialog in the stack assumes control of the conversation.

You may remember Facebook’s big chatbot push in 2016 –  when they announced that they were opening up the Messenger platform to chatbots of all varieties. Every organization suddenly needed to get their hands on the technology. The idea of having conversational chatbot technology was enthralling, but behind all the glitz, glamour and tech sex appeal, was something a little bit less exciting. To quote Gizmodo writer, Darren Orf:
Online chatbots save time and efforts by automating customer support. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, over 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human. However, the opportunites provided by chatbot systems go far beyond giving responses to customers’ inquiries. They are also used for other business tasks, like collecting information about users, helping to organize meetings and reducing overhead costs. There is no wonder that size of the chatbot market is growing exponentially.
But, as any human knows, no question or statement in a conversation really has a limited number of potential responses. There is an infinite number of ways to combine the finite number of words in a human language to say something. Real conversation requires creativity, spontaneity, and inference. Right now, those traits are still the realm of humans alone. There is still a gamut of work to finish in order to make bots as person-centric as Rogerian therapists, but bots and their creators are getting closer every day.
The bottom line is that chatbots have completely transformed the way companies interact with their consumers. And guess what? This is just the very beginning. And the truth is that even though to some company leaders it may seem challenging to incorporate the omnichannel customer experience, it opens up a fantastic opportunity that allows businesses to engage with customers in a fresh, modern way. The outcome of this may prove to be an excellent opportunity to build more meaningful and long-lasting relationships with the customers.
“They’re doing things we’re simply not doing in the U.S. Imagine if you were going to start a city from scratch. Rather than having to deal with all the infrastructure created 200 years ago, you could hit the ground running on the latest technology. That’s what China’s doing — they’re accessing markets for the first time through mobile apps and payments.” — Brian Buchwald, CEO of consumer intelligence firm Bomoda

Chatbots are a great way to answer customer questions. According to a case study, Amtrak uses chatbots to answer roughly 5,000,000 questions a year. Not only are the questions answered promptly, but Amtrak saved $1,000,000 in customer service expenses in the year the study was conducted. It also experienced a 25 percent increase in travel bookings.
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.) 
Speaking ahead of the Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney, Magnus Revang, research director at Gartner, said the broad appeal of chatbots stems from the efficiency and ease of interaction they create for employees, customers or other users. The potential benefits are significant for enterprises and shouldn’t be ignored.
There is no one right answer to this question, as the best solution will depend upon the specifics of your scenario and how the user would reasonably expect the bot to respond. However, as your conversation complexity increases dialogs become harder to manage. For complex branchings situations, it may be easier to create your own flow of control logic to keep track of your user's conversation.
Can we provide a better way of doing business that transforms an arduous “elephant-in-the-room” process or task into one that allows all involved parties to stay active and engaged? As stated by Grayevsky, “I saw a huge opportunity to design a technology platform for both job seekers and employers that could fill the gaping ‘black hole’ in recruitment and deliver better results to both sides.”
To inspire the next generation of explorers, NASA reaches out to students in schools, community organizations, and public events. A star robotic ambassador is “Rov-E,” a close replica of real NASA Mars rovers. Through Amazon Lex, NASA staff can now easily navigate Rov-E via voice commands -- an effective conversational interface when speaking with large crowds. Multi-turn dialog management capability enables Rov-E "to talk,” answering students’ questions about Mars in an engaging way. Integration with AWS services allows Rov-E to connect and scale with various data sources to retrieve NASA’s Mars exploration information. 
If it happens to be an API call / data retrieval, then the control flow handle will remain within the ‘dialogue management’ component that will further use/persist this information to predict the next_action, once again. The dialogue manager will update its current state based on this action and the retrieved results to make the next prediction. Once the next_action corresponds to responding to the user, then the ‘message generator’ component takes over.
Chatbots can strike up a conversation with any customer about any issue at any time of day. They engage in friendly interactions with customers. Besides, virtual assistants only give a bit of information at a time. This way they don’t tire customers with irrelevant and unnecessary information. Chatbots can maintain conversations and keep customers on your website longer.
24/7 digital support. An instant and always accessible assistant is assumed by the more and more digital consumer of the new era.[34] 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.[41]
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