A representative example of a chat bot is A.L.I.C.E., brought to artificial life in 1995 by Richard Wallace. The A.L.I.C.E. bot participated in numerous competitions related to natural language processing evaluation and obtained many honors and awards, and it is also worth mentioning that this chat bot won the Loebner Prize contest at least three times, it was also part of the top 10 at Chatterbox competition, and won the best character/personality chat bot contest.
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.
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.
In one particularly striking example of how this rather limited bot has made a major impact, U-Report sent a poll to users in Liberia about whether teachers were coercing students into sex in exchange for better grades. Approximately 86% of the 13,000 Liberian children U-Report polled responded that their teachers were engaged in this despicable practice, which resulted in a collaborative project between UNICEF and Liberia’s Minister of Education to put an end to it.
One pertinent field of AI research is natural language processing. Usually, weak AI fields employ specialized software or programming languages created specifically for the narrow function required. For example, A.L.I.C.E. uses a markup language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent, and has since been adopted by various other developers of, so called, Alicebots. Nevertheless, A.L.I.C.E. is still purely based on pattern matching techniques without any reasoning capabilities, the same technique ELIZA was using back in 1966. This is not strong AI, which would require sapience and logical reasoning abilities.
The bot (which also offers users the opportunity to chat with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman) isn’t a true conversational agent, in the sense that the bot’s responses are currently a little limited; this isn’t a truly “freestyle” chatbot. For example, in the conversation above, the bot didn’t recognize the reply as a valid response – kind of a bummer if you’re hoping for an immersive experience.
Tay, an AI chatbot that learns from previous interaction, caused major controversy due to it being targeted by internet trolls on Twitter. The bot was exploited, and after 16 hours began to send extremely offensive Tweets to users. This suggests that although the bot learnt effectively from experience, adequate protection was not put in place to prevent misuse.
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?”
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.
If a text-sending algorithm can pass itself off as a human instead of a chatbot, its message would be more credible. Therefore, human-seeming chatbots with well-crafted online identities could start scattering fake news that seem plausible, for instance making false claims during a presidential election. With enough chatbots, it might be even possible to achieve artificial social proof.
The first formal instantiation of a Turing Test for machine intelligence is a Loebner Prize and has been organized since 1991. In a typical setup, there are three areas: the computer area with typically 3-5 computers, each running a stand-alone version (i.e. not connected with the internet) of the participating chatbot, an area for the human judges, typically four persons, and another area for the ‘confederates’, typically 3-5 voluntary humans, dependent on the number of chatbot participants. The human judges, working on their own terminal separated from one another, engage in a conversation with a human or a computer through the terminal, not knowing whether they are connected to a computer or a human. Then, they simply start to interact. The organizing committee requires that conversations are restricted to a single topic. The task for the human judges is to recognize chatbot responses and distinguish them from conversations with humans. If the judges cannot reliably distinguish the chatbot from the human, the chatbot is said to have passed the test.
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist