According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, "Chatbots are [...] increasingly used in particular for mental health applications, prevention and behavior change applications (such as smoking cessation or physical activity interventions).". They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety. A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.
Online chatbots save time and efforts by automating customer support. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, over 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human. However, the opportunites provided by chatbot systems go far beyond giving responses to customers’ inquiries. They are also used for other business tasks, like collecting information about users, helping to organize meetings and reducing overhead costs. There is no wonder that size of the chatbot market is growing exponentially.
AIML, Artificial Intelligence Markup Language developed by Richard Wallace, constitutes an open standard for creating your own chat bot. AIML file consists of row-type, database-style data combined with hierarchical XML data in each response. This video shows one of spreadsheet-style editors for AIML, Simple AIML Editor (SAE) developed by Adeena Mignogna. The SAE allows botmasters to manage large AIML sets and then zoom in on the templates to edit the responses.
Interestingly, the as-yet unnamed conversational agent is currently an open-source project, meaning that anyone can contribute to the development of the bot’s codebase. The project is still in its earlier stages, but has great potential to help scientists, researchers, and care teams better understand how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain. A Russian version of the bot is already available, and an English version is expected at some point this year.
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.
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.
In the early 90’s, the Turing test, which allows determining the possibility of thinking by computers, was developed. It consists in the following. A person talks to both the person and the computer. The goal is to find out who his interlocutor is — a person or a machine. This test is carried out in our days and many conversational programs have coped with it successfully.
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”.
“We believe that you don’t need to know how to program to build a bot, that’s what inspired us at Chatfuel a year ago when we started bot builder. We noticed bots becoming hyper-local, i.e. a bot for a soccer team to keep in touch with fans or a small art community bot. Bots are efficient and when you let anyone create them easily magic happens.” — Dmitrii Dumik, Founder of Chatfuel