Users want to ask questions in their own language, and have bots help them. A statement that sounds as straight-forward as “My login isn’t working! I haven’t been able to log into your on-line billing system” might sound straight forward to us, but to a bot, there’s a lot it needs to understand. Watson Conversation Services has learned from Wikipedia, and along with its deep learning techniques, it’s able to work out what the user is asking.
When considering potential uses, first assess the impact on resources. There are two options here: replacement or empowerment. Replacement is clearly easier as you don’t need to consider integration with existing processes and you can build from scratch. Empowerment enhances an existing process by making it more flexible, accommodating, accessible and simple for users.
The chatbot is trained to translate the input data into a desired output value. When given this data, it analyzes and forms context to point to the relevant data to react to spoken or written prompts. Looking into deep learning within AI, the machine discovers new patterns in the data without any prior information or training, then extracts and stores the pattern.
In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.
Chatbots are used in a variety of sectors and built for different purposes. There are retail bots designed to pick and order groceries, weather bots that give you weather forecast of the day or week, and simply friendly bots that just talk to people in need of a friend. The fintech sector also uses chatbots to make consumers’ inquiries and application for financial services easier. A small business lender in Montreal, Thinking Capital, uses a virtual assistant to provide customers with 24/7 assistance through the Facebook Messenger. A small business hoping to get a loan from the company need only answer key qualification questions asked by the bot in order to be deemed eligible to receive up to $300,000 in financing.
Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN. While the bot revolution is still in the early phase, many believe 2016 will be the year these conversational interactions take off.
Open domain chatbots tends to talk about general topics and give appropriate responses. In other words, the knowledge domain is receptive to a wider pool of knowledge. However, these bots are difficult to perfect because language is so versatile. Conversations on social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit are typically considered open domain — they can go in virtually any direction. Furthermore, the whole context around a query requires common sense to understand many new topics properly, which is even harder for computers to grasp.
Back to our earlier example, if a bot doesn’t know the word trousers and a user corrects the input to pants, the bot will remember the connection between those two words in the future. The more words and connections that a bot is exposed to, the smarter it gets. This process is similar to that of human learning. Our capacity for memory and synthesis is part of what makes us unique, and we’re teaching our best tricks to bots.
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