Despite the fact that ALICE relies on such an old codebase, the bot offers users a remarkably accurate conversational experience. Of course, no bot is perfect, especially one that’s old enough to legally drink in the U.S. if only it had a physical form. ALICE, like many contemporary bots, struggles with the nuances of some questions and returns a mixture of inadvertently postmodern answers and statements that suggest ALICE has greater self-awareness for which we might give the agent credit.
You can find chatbots on many messaging apps, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, and Telegram. Even the more work-focused service Slack has its own built-in bot that helps you set reminders and jot down notes. Twitter has bots too which will reply to you, but usually not offer any assistance. I've rounded up some of the top chatbots on each platform in the list below.
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.
What began as a televised ad campaign eventually became a fully interactive chatbot developed for PG Tips’ parent company, Unilever (which also happens to own an alarming number of the most commonly known household brands) by London-based agency Ubisend, which specializes in developing bespoke chatbot applications for brands. The aim of the bot was to not only raise brand awareness for PG Tips tea, but also to raise funds for Red Nose Day through the 1 Million Laughs campaign.
The main challenge is in teaching a chatbot to understand the language of your customers. In every business, customers express themselves differently and each group of a target audience speaks its own way. The language is influenced by advertising campaigns on the market, the political situation in the country, releases of new services and products from Google, Apple and Pepsi among others. The way people speak depends on their city, mood, weather and moon phase. An important role in the communication of the business with customers may have the release of the film Star Wars, for example. That’s why training a chatbot to understand correctly everything the user types requires a lot of efforts.
There are several defined conversational branches that the bots can take depending on what the user enters, but the primary goal of the app is to sell comic books and movie tickets. As a result, the conversations users can have with Star-Lord might feel a little forced. One aspect of the experience the app gets right, however, is the fact that the conversations users can have with the bot are interspersed with gorgeous, full-color artwork from Marvel’s comics.
In a particularly alarming example of unexpected consequences, the bots soon began to devise their own language – in a sense. After being online for a short time, researchers discovered that their bots had begun to deviate significantly from pre-programmed conversational pathways and were responding to users (and each other) in an increasingly strange way, ultimately creating their own language without any human input.
Earlier, I made a rather lazy joke with a reference to the Terminator movie franchise, in which an artificial intelligence system known as Skynet becomes self-aware and identifies the human race as the greatest threat to its own survival, triggering a global nuclear war by preemptively launching the missiles under its command at cities around the world. (If by some miracle you haven’t seen any of the Terminator movies, the first two are excellent but I’d strongly advise steering clear of later entries in the franchise.)
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.
Efforts by servers hosting websites to counteract bots vary. Servers may choose to outline rules on the behaviour of internet bots by implementing a robots.txt file: this file is simply text stating the rules governing a bot's behaviour on that server. Any bot that does not follow these rules when interacting with (or 'spidering') any server should, in theory, be denied access to, or removed from, the affected website. If the only rule implementation by a server is a posted text file with no associated program/software/app, then adhering to those rules is entirely voluntary – in reality there is no way to enforce those rules, or even to ensure that a bot's creator or implementer acknowledges, or even reads, the robots.txt file contents. Some bots are "good" – e.g. search engine spiders – while others can be used to launch malicious and harsh attacks, most notably, in political campaigns.
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.
This is where most applications of NLP struggle, and not just chatbots. Any system or application that relies upon a machine’s ability to parse human speech is likely to struggle with the complexities inherent in elements of speech such as metaphors and similes. Despite these considerable limitations, chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, responsive, and more “natural.”
A.L.I.C.E. was written within the frame of Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML), an open standard for creating any kind of chatbot, also developed by Wallace. Most AIML interpreters are offered under a free or open source license. Therefore, many “Alicebot clones” populate the internet, having been created based upon the original implementation of A.L.I.C.E. and its AIML knowledge base. This video shows a speech as given by dr. Wallace about A.L.I.C.E., AIML and the chatbot history in general.
Reports of political interferences in recent elections, including the 2016 US and 2017 UK general elections, have set the notion of botting being more prevalent because of the ethics that is challenged between the bot’s design and the bot’s designer. According to Emilio Ferrara, a computer scientist from the University of Southern California reporting on Communications of the ACM, the lack of resources available to implement fact-checking and information verification results in the large volumes of false reports and claims made on these bots in social media platforms. In the case of Twitter, most of these bots are programmed with searching filter capabilities that target key words and phrases that reflect in favor and against political agendas and retweet them. While the attention of bots is programmed to spread unverified information throughout the social media platform, it is a challenge that programmers face in the wake of a hostile political climate. Binary functions are designated to the programs and using an Application Program interface embedded in the social media website executes the functions tasked. The Bot Effect is what Ferrera reports as when the socialization of bots and human users creates a vulnerability to the leaking of personal information and polarizing influences outside the ethics of the bot’s code. According to Guillory Kramer in his study, he observes the behavior of emotionally volatile users and the impact the bots have on the users, altering the perception of reality.
Unfortunately, my mom can’t really engage in meaningful conversations anymore, but many people suffering with dementia retain much of their conversational abilities as their illness progresses. However, the shame and frustration that many dementia sufferers experience often make routine, everyday talks with even close family members challenging. That’s why Russian technology company Endurance developed its companion chatbot.
ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
Evie's capacities go beyond mere verbal or textual interactions; the AI utilised in Evie also extends to controlling the timing and degree of facial expressions and movement. Her visually displayed reactions and emotions blend and vary in surprisingly complex ways, and a range of voices are delivered to your browser, along with lip synching information, to bring the avatar to life! Evie uses Flash if your browser supports it, but still works even without, thanks to our own Existor Avatar Player technology, allowing you to enjoy her to the full on iOS and Android.
Talking to a chatbot can be a lot of fun, and if you have the desire, dedication and skills to create, maintain and manage your own chatbot, you can do it. Whether you choose a fully stand-alone “virtual companion”, or take on the challenge of creating your own web-based chatbot, there are several options available to you, the prospective new botmaster, for creating a new chatbot. Nevertheless, first of all you have to choose between a stand-alone chatbot application, and a web-based chatbot.
“It’s hard to balance that urge to just dogpile the latest thing when you’re feeling like there’s a land grab or gold rush about to happen all around you and that you might get left behind. But in the end quality wins out. Everyone will be better off if there’s laser focus on building great bot products that are meaningfully differentiated.” — Ryan Block, Cofounder of Begin.com