Magic, launched in early 2015, is one of the earliest examples of conversational commerce by launching one of the first all-in-one intelligent virtual assistants as a service. Unique in that the service does not even have an app (you access it purely via SMS), Magic promises to be able to handle virtually any task you send it — almost like a human executive assistant. Based on user and press accounts, Magic seems to be able to successfully carry out a variety of odd tasks from setting up flight reservations to ordering hard-to-find food items.
Another option is to integrate your own custom AI service. This approach is more complex, but gives you complete flexibility in terms of the machine learning algorithm, training, and model. For example, you could implement your own topic modeling and use algorithm such as LDA to find similar or relevant documents. A good approach is to expose your custom AI solution as a web service endpoint, and call the endpoint from the core bot logic. The web service could be hosted in App Service or in a cluster of VMs. Azure Machine Learning provides a number of services and libraries to assist you in training and deploying your models.
“There is hope that consumers will be keen on experimenting with bots to make things happen for them. It used to be like that in the mobile app world 4+ years ago. When somebody told you back then… ‘I have built an app for X’… You most likely would give it a try. Now, nobody does this. It is probably too late to build an app company as an indie developer. But with bots… consumers’ attention spans are hopefully going to be wide open/receptive again!” — Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst
The most widely used anti-bot technique is the use of CAPTCHA, which is a form of Turing test used to distinguish between a human user and a less-sophisticated AI-powered bot, by the use of graphically-encoded human-readable text. Examples of providers include Recaptcha, and commercial companies such as Minteye, Solve Media, and NuCaptcha. Captchas, however, are not foolproof in preventing bots as they can often be circumvented by computer character recognition, security holes, and even by outsourcing captcha solving to cheap laborers.
Say you want to build a bot that tells the current temperature. The dialog for the bot only needs coding to recognize and report the requested location and temperature. To do this, the bot needs to pull data from the API of the local weather service, based on the user’s location, and to send that data back to the user—basically, a few lines of templatable code and you’re done.
One of the more talked about integrations has been Taco Bell‘s announcement that it is working on a Slackbot (appropriately named Tacobot) which will not only take your Gordita Supreme order but will do it with the same “witty personality you’d expect from Taco Bell.” Consumer demand for such a service remains to be seen, but it hints at the potential for brands to leverage Slack’s platform and growing audience.
2017 was the year that AI and chatbots took off in business, not just in developed nations, but across the whole world. Sage have reported that this global trend is boosting international collaboration between startups across all continents, such as the European Commission-backed Startup Europe Comes to Africa (SEC2A) which was held in November 2017.
Once the chatbot is ready and is live interacting with customers, smart feedback loops can be implemented. During the conversation when customers ask a question, chatbot smartly give them a couple of answers by providing different options like “Did you mean a,b or c”. That way customers themselves matches the questions with actual possible intents and that information can be used to retrain the machine learning model, hence improving the chatbot’s accuracy.
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.
“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.
Oftentimes, brands have a passive approach to customer interactions. They only communicate with their audience once a consumer has contacted them first. A chatbot automatically sends a welcome notification when a person arrives on your website or social media profile making the user aware of your chatbots presence. This makes you seem more proactive, thus enhancing your brand's reputation and can even increase interactions, having a positive effect on your sales numbers, too.
A bot is software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own, like making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar or fetching and displaying information. The increasingly common form of bots, chatbots, simulate conversation. They often live inside messaging apps — or are at least designed to look that way — and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human.
This importance is reinforced by Jacqueline Payne, Customer Support Manager at Paperclip Digital, who says ‘Customer service isn’t a buzzword. But too many businesses treat it like it is. As a viable avenue from which to lower customer acquisition costs and cultivate a loyal customer base, chat bots can play a pivotal role in driving business growth.’
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'). 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".