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.)
Disney invited fans of the movie to solve crimes with Lieutenant Judy Hopps, the tenacious, long-eared protagonist of the movie. Children could help Lt. Hopps investigate mysteries like those in the movie by interacting with the bot, which explored avenues of inquiry based on user input. Users can make suggestions for Lt. Hopps’ investigations, to which the chatbot would respond.
“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
These days, checking the headlines over morning coffee is as much about figuring out if we should be hunkering down in the basement preparing for imminent nuclear annihilation as it is about keeping up with the day’s headlines. Unfortunately, even the most diligent newshounds may find it difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise, which is why NBC launched its NBC Politics Bot on Facebook Messenger shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
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:
Chatbots talk in almost every major language. Their language (Natural Language Processing, NLP) skills vary from extremely poor to very clever intelligent, helpful and funny. The same counts for their graphic design, sometimes it feels like a cartoonish character drawn by a child, and on the other hand there are photo-realistic 3D animated characters available, which are hard to distinguish from humans. And they are all referred to as ‘chatbots’. If you have a look at our chatbot gallery, you will immediately notice the difference.
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.
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.
^ "From Russia With Love" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-12-09. Psychologist and Scientific American: Mind contributing editor Robert Epstein reports how he was initially fooled by a chatterbot posing as an attractive girl in a personal ad he answered on a dating website. In the ad, the girl portrayed herself as being in Southern California and then soon revealed, in poor English, that she was actually in Russia. He became suspicious after a couple of months of email exchanges, sent her an email test of gibberish, and she still replied in general terms. The dating website is not named. Scientific American: Mind, October–November 2007, page 16–17, "From Russia With Love: How I got fooled (and somewhat humiliated) by a computer". Also available online.
Along with the continued development of our avatars, we are also investigating machine learning and deep learning techniques, and working on the creation of a short term memory for our bots. This will allow humans interacting with our AI to develop genuine human-like relationships with their bot; any personal information that is exchanged will be remembered by the bot and recalled in the correct context at the appropriate time. The bots will get to know their human companion, and utilise this knowledge to form warmer and more personal interactions.
Chatbot, when it plays its role as a virtual representative of an enterprise, is widely used by businesses outside of the US, primarily in the UK, The Netherlands, Germany and Australia. Additionally, the usage of this term is quite popular amongst amateur AI enthusiasts willing to spend vast amounts of time on their own intelligent creations (with diverse outcomes).
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.
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.
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.