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.
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.
The word bot, in Internet sense, is a short form of robot and originates from XX century. The modern use of the word bot has curious affinities with earlier uses, e.g. “parasitical worm or maggot” (1520s), of unknown origin; and Australian-New Zealand slang “worthless, troublesome person” (World War I -era). The method of minting new slang by clipping the heads off respectable words does not seem to be old or widespread in English. Examples: za from pizza, zels from pretzels, rents from parents, are American English student or teen slang and seem to date back no further than late 1960s.
Simple chatbots work based on pre-written keywords that they understand. Each of these commands must be written by the developer separately using regular expressions or other forms of string analysis. If the user has asked a question without using a single keyword, the robot can not understand it and, as a rule, responds with messages like “sorry, I did not understand”.
The “web-based” solution, which runs on a remote server, is generally able to be reached by the general public through a web page. It constitutes a web page with a chatbot embedded in it, and a text form is the sole interface between the user (you) and the chatbot. Any “upgrades” or improvements to the interface are solely the option and responsibility of the botmaster.
A rapidly growing, benign, form of internet bot is the chatbot. From 2016, when Facebook Messenger allowed developers to place chatbots on their platform, there has been an exponential growth of their use on that forum alone. 30,000 bots were created for Messenger in the first six months, rising to 100,000 by September 2017. Avi Ben Ezra, CTO of SnatchBot, told Forbes that evidence from the use of their chatbot building platform pointed to a near future saving of millions of hours of human labour as 'live chat' on websites was replaced with bots.
The term chat bot (or sometimes just bot) can also be used in the meaning of an automatic chat responder program. The article How to Create a Chat Bot for Yahoo Messenger written by Chelsea Hoffman, explains how quick and easy it is to create a Chat bot responder containing unique and accurate responses to general phrases, words and questions that are used in Yahoo messenger.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.
This chatbot aims to make medical diagnoses faster, easier, and more transparent for both patients and physicians – think of it like an intelligent version of WebMD that you can talk to. MedWhat is powered by a sophisticated machine learning system that offers increasingly accurate responses to user questions based on behaviors that it “learns” by interacting with human beings.
The “stand-alone” application, where the chatbot runs on a single computer, integrates mostly some sort of system interface, allowing your chatbot to control certain aspects and functions of your computer, such as playing media files, or retrieving documents. It usually also has a graphical component built in, as well, in the form of an avatar (often female) that enhances interaction, thus improving user’s experience.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots that it launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers, through which it can actively manage bot interactions.
Smart chatbots rely on artificial intelligence when they communicate with users. Instead of pre-prepared answers, the robot responds with adequate suggestions on the topic. In addition, all the words said by the customers are recorded for later processing. However, the Forrester report “The State of Chatbots” points out that artificial intelligence is not a magic and is not yet ready to produce marvelous experiences for users on its own. On the contrary, it requires a huge work:
Although NBC Politics Bot was a little rudimentary in terms of its interactions, this particular application of chatbot technology could well become a lot more popular in the coming years – particularly as audiences struggle to keep up with the enormous volume of news content being published every day. The bot also helped NBC determine what content most resonated with users, which the network will use to further tailor and refine its content to users in the future.
Chatbots are predicted to be progressively present in businesses and will automate tasks that do not require skill-based talents. Companies are getting smarter with touchpoints and customer service now comes in the form of instant messenger, as well as phone calls. IBM recently predicted that 85% of customer service enquiries will be handled by AI as early as 2020. The call centre workers may be particularly at risk from AI.
Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.