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.
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.
Chatbots are services that mimic conversations with people in order to interact with your customers. Chatbots can be integrated with e-commerce platforms, allowing you to monetize your social media accounts and instant messaging profiles. All competitive companies must maintain a strong online presence, and chatbots are changing the way your audience interacts with you. They help you build an emotional bond with your customer, and because they are still new, building a chatbot now means a strategic advantage over the competition.
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.
“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
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.
There are various search engines for bots, such as Chatbottle, Botlist and Thereisabotforthat, for example, helping developers to inform users about the launch of new talkbots. These sites also provide a ranking of bots by various parameters: the number of votes, user statistics, platforms, categories (travel, productivity, social interaction, e-commerce, entertainment, news, etc.). They feature more than three and a half thousand bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and Kik.
Automated customer support with smart businesses chatbots. ActiveChat is an omnichannel chatbot platform for natural language customer support. Using this platform you can seamlessly integrate with CRM and CMS and make more sales with e-commerce integrations. “We provide you with everything you need to build great chatbots. Conversational design with Visual Bot Architect is easy as building with LEGO blocks”, claims ActiveChat.
Bots are also used to buy up good seats for concerts, particularly by ticket brokers who resell the tickets. Bots are employed against entertainment event-ticketing sites. The bots are used by ticket brokers to unfairly obtain the best seats for themselves while depriving the general public of also having a chance to obtain the good seats. The bot runs through the purchase process and obtains better seats by pulling as many seats back as it can.
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.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock.com, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app. In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly. These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.
Facebook Messenger claims to have recently hit the much coveted ‘billion’ with 1.2 billion users on the platform. Last year, at Facebook’s Developer Conference, F8, the support for bots on Messenger platform was unveiled. And since then, developers from around the world have been working to leverage the next-gen technology. There are more than 100,000 bots available on Messenger today. David Marcus, Messenger’s CEO, states that the number of messages sent between businesses and customers has reached to 2 billion a month.
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.
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.
Messenger couldn’t have been this powerful and productive without these masterpieces of tech. And 100,000+ of these can definitely bring a storm of change in how we interact with machines to get things done! Go ping these amazing bots. Also, since their era has just begun, excuse them if they don’t get a couple of your queries right. They evolve and become more capable with increasing human interaction.
Insidiously and persistently, Facebook is chipping away at other messaging platforms and moving their users to Facebook Messenger. If they keep it up, by the end of 2017 there will be as many people on Messenger (currently 900 million) as Facebook (1.674 billion). But, counterintuitive as that strategy seems (why bifurcate resources on two fronts) that is all part of Mark Zuckerberg’s avec nous le deluge.
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:
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.
Not only is this bot a saviour when it comes to knowing weather updates in a jiffy, it is very quirky with its replies sometimes. If you love having conversations with a bot, Poncho will entertain you pretty well with his witty and personalised replies for some queries. On my query, see how I was informed that the mighty cat-bot herself had DJ’ed in Bengaluru and loved the crowd!