As I tinker with dialog systems at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, primarily by prototyping Alexa skills, I often wonder what AI is still lacking to build good conversational systems, punting the social challenge to another day. This post is my take on where AI has a good chance to improve and consequently, what we can expect from the next wave of conversational systems.
…utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context. The net result is that you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal.
Context: When a NLU algorithm analyzes a sentence, it does not have the history of the user conversation. It means that if it receives the answer to a question it has just asked, it will not remember the question. For differentiating the phases during the chat conversation, it’s state should be stored. It can either be flags like “Ordering Pizza” or parameters like “Restaurant: ‘Dominos’”. With context, you can easily relate intents with no need to know what was the previous question.
Simplified and scripted. Chatbot technology is being tacked on to the broader AI message, and while it’s important to note that machine learning will help chatbots get better at understand and responding to questions, it’s not going to make them the conversationalists we dream them to be. No matter what the marketing says, chatbots are entirely scripted. User says x, chatbot responds y.
If you visit a Singapore government website in the near future, chances are you’ll be using a chatbot to access the services you need, as part of the country’s Smart Nation initiative. In Australia, Deakin University students now access campus services using its ‘Genie’ virtual assistant platform, made up of chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition and predictive analytics.
There are NLP services and applications programming interfaces that are used to build the chatbots and make it possible for all type of businesses, small. Medium and large scale. The main point here is that Smart Bots have the potential to help increase your customer base by improving the customer support services and as a result boosts the sales as well as profits. They are an opportunity for many small and mid-sized companies to reach a huge customer base.

In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.


Speaking ahead of the Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney, Magnus Revang, research director at Gartner, said the broad appeal of chatbots stems from the efficiency and ease of interaction they create for employees, customers or other users. The potential benefits are significant for enterprises and shouldn’t be ignored.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008[20] or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011.[20] [21] The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.[22] [23]
Its a chat-bot — For simplicity reasons in this article, it is assumed that the user will type in text and the bot would respond back with an appropriate message in the form of text (So, we will not be concerned with the aspects like ASR, speech recognition, speech to text, text to speech etc., Below architecture can anyways be enhanced with these components, as required).
At this year’s I/O, Google announced its own Facebook Messenger competitor called Allo. Apart from some neat features around privacy and self-expression, the really interesting part of Allo is @google, the app’s AI digital assistant. Google’s assistant is interesting because the company has about a decades-long head start in machine learning applied to search, so its likely that Allo’s chatbot will be very useful. In fact, you could see Allo becoming the primary interface for interacting with Google search over time. This interaction model would more closely resemble Larry Page’s long-term vision for search, which goes far beyond the clumsy search query + results page model of today:
On the other hand, early adoption can be somewhat of a curse. In 2011, many companies and individuals, myself included, invested a lot of time and money into Google+, dubbed to be bigger than Facebook at the time. They acquired over 10 million new users within the first two weeks of launch and things were looking positive. Many companies doubled-down on growing a community within the platform, hopeful of using it as a new and growing acquisition channel, but things didn't exactly pan out that way.
H&M’s consistent increased sales over the past year and its August announcement to launch an eCommerce presence in Canada and South Korea during the fall of 2016, along with 11 new H&M online markets (for a total of 35 markets by the end of the year), appear to signify positive results for its chatbot implementation (though direct correlations are unavailable on its website).
Like apps and websites, bots have a UI, but it is made up of dialogs, rather than screens. Dialogs help preserve your place within a conversation, prompt users when needed, and execute input validation. They are useful for managing multi-turn conversations and simple "forms-based" collections of information to accomplish activities such as booking a flight.
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.
Through Amazon’s developer platform for the Echo (called Alexa Skills), developers can develop “skills” for Alexa which enable her to carry out new types of tasks. Examples of skills include playing music from your Spotify library, adding events to your Google Calendar, or querying your credit card balance with Capital One — you can even ask Alexa to “open Dominoes and place my Easy Order” and have pizza delivered without even picking up your smartphone. Now that’s conversational commerce in action.
The goal of intent-based bots is to solve user queries on a one to one basis. With each question answered it can adapt to the user behavior. The more data the bots receive, the more intelligent they become. Great examples of intent-based bots are Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. The bot has the ability to extract contextual information such as location, and state information like chat history, to suggest appropriate solutions in a specific situation.
Several studies accomplished by analytics agencies such as Juniper or Gartner [34] report significant reduction of cost of customer services, leading to billions of dollars of economy in the next 10 years. Gartner predicts an integration by 2020 of chatbots in at least 85% of all client's applications to customer service. Juniper's study announces an impressive amount of $8 billion retained annually by 2022 due to the use of chatbots.
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