Chatbots – also known as “conversational agents” – are software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person. There are two primary ways chatbots are offered to visitors: via web-based applications or standalone apps. Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps.
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.
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.
“There is hope that consumers will be keen on experimenting with bots to make things happen for them. It used to be like that in the mobile app world 4+ years ago. When somebody told you back then… ‘I have built an app for X’… You most likely would give it a try. Now, nobody does this. It is probably too late to build an app company as an indie developer. But with bots… consumers’ attention spans are hopefully going to be wide open/receptive again!” — Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst