It didn’t take long, however, for Turing’s headaches to begin. The BabyQ bot drew the ire of Chinese officials by speaking ill of the Communist Party. In the exchange seen in the screenshot above, one user commented, “Long Live the Communist Party!” In response, BabyQ asked the user, “Do you think that such a corrupt and incompetent political regime can live forever?”
Chatbots – also known as “conversational agents” – are software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person. There are two primary ways chatbots are offered to visitors: via web-based applications or standalone apps. Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps.
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.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
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.
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.
However, the revelations didn’t stop there. The researchers also learned that the bots had become remarkably sophisticated negotiators in a short period of time, with one bot even attempting to mislead a researcher by demonstrating interest in a particular item so it could gain crucial negotiating leverage at a later stage by willingly “sacrificing” the item in which it had feigned interest, indicating a remarkable level of premeditation and strategic “thinking.”
According to Richard Wallace, chatbots development faced three phases over the past 60 years. In the beginning, chatbot only simulated human-human conversations, using canned responses based on keywords, and it had almost no intelligence. Second phase of development was strictly associated with the expansion of Internet, thanks to which a chatbot was widely accessed and chatted with thousands of users. Then, the first commercial chatbot developers appeared. The third wave of chatbots development is combined with advanced technologies such as natural language processing, speech synthesis and real-time rendering videos. It comprises of chatbot appearing within web pages, instant messaging, and virtual worlds.
“Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.” — Aaron Batalion, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners