Why Chatbots are the Future

BACKGROUND

In class, we’ve talked about how we are transitioning from the age of information to the age of intelligence. Companies are investing in artificial intelligence (AI) more than ever. The most obvious example would be the plethora of autonomous car companies, but even companies like Salesforce, voted most innovative company by Forbes in 2017, are implementing AI into their platform to improve their relationships with customers.

I knew I wanted to research something related to AI and I luckily stumbled upon an eye-catching headline: 2018: The Year of the Chatbot. A survey from Oracle shows that 800 of 1000 businesses wanted to implement chatbots into their services. Another article mentions that 44% of consumers prefer a chatbot to a human customer service agent. Although chatbots never live up to their hype year after year, I think they will become a prevalent part of every business as AI, machine learning, and natural language processing technology advance.

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HOW CHATBOTS WORK

For clarification, chatbots are different from virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Although there is a lot of overlap in the technologies that they implement, their uses and purposes differ. Chatbots respond to text and sometimes voice, but virtual assistants focus on voice. In addition, chatbots are usually meant to accomplish a specific task for a business, while virtual assistants are used as a general helper.

For example, Starbucks created a chatbot that can place your order. Using your own voice or the standard chat box, you can place your favorite order at your preferred location and the bot will let you know the total cost and how long it will take to receive your order. If you are one of those people that make twenty modifications to your drink, the chatbot can still recognize that and apply it to your order. As the chatbot gathers more data and is built on a solid AI foundation, it will only continue to become smarter and emulate the process of ordering from a real barista.

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Chatbots still face many challenges to emulate a human-like conversation. They receive a poor reputation from the very barebones chatbots that only provide a few services and have scripted or incorrect responses. However, the main problem lies in the fact that it is very difficult to create a machine with the complexity and intelligence of a human.

 

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Example of a poorly-designed chatbot

 

TECHNOLOGY USED IN CHATBOTS

  • Artificial Intelligence: This field of study focuses on the theory and development of machines that are able to perform tasks that require human intelligence, such as decision-making and speech recognition.
  • Natural Language Processing: This is an area of artificial intelligence that deals with the interactions between human languages and computer languages. The programs are meant to gather a large amount of data to analyze, understand, and derive meaning from it.
  • Machine Learning: This area of computer science deals with designing programs and algorithms that teach a machine to perform a task and improve upon the task as it is used more. With all of the data gathered from natural language processing, machine learning will allow chatbots to find patterns in in the data and make predictions based on the data (AKA provide meaningful answers to user input). The development of solid machine learning technology is what will set mediocre chatbots apart from the chatbots of the future.

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FACEBOOK CHATBOT PLATFORM

The launch of a platform for building chatbots on Facebook Messenger was a key event in reviving the craze around chatbots. In the first year of the platform, developers had built more than 100,000 bots. David Marcus, Vice President of Messaging Products at Facebook, said that the messages between businesses and people had doubled to billion messages per month. This amount of data collection/business-to-customer interactions can turn these chatbots into powerful marketing tools.

One advantage of chatbots is that they can be integrated into many messaging apps, WeChat and Facebook Messenger being two of the biggest. Besides offering basic interactions, chatbots can also conduct marketing surveys or distribute new content through push notifications.

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Chatbots can be used for internal business operations as well. An article on Forbes also suggested the idea that chatbots can be used to manage marketing expenses. After supplying the chatbot with enough information on a company’s budget, it can perform tasks such as alerting a team member if they exceeded their budget limit. It can also analyze data and make suggestions based on processing the massive amounts of data. Again, this is all dependent on building solid technology, which is something that can be achieved.

EXAMPLES OF COOL CHATBOTS

Salesforce Einstein

Although this is a platform for building AI chatbots within the Salesforce suite, this definitely deserves a mention. Einstein allows customers to build a personalized chatbot that offers business insights through data analytics, all through the reliable Salesforce cloud. In addition, customers can build a typical chatbot that engages with community members to provide the right content at the right time.

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WoeBot

Developed by Stanford psychologists and AI experts, WoeBot is a 24/7 mental health chatbot that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. WoeBot tracks a user’s mood and finds patterns in the responses to share information about the user. The chatbot is programmed to inform the user that it is not a substitute for professional help, but it can potentially be a helpful form of therapy, all through the use of Facebook Messenger. Although it acknowledges that it is not a human, WoeBot provides very human-like responses.

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Lyft

Ridesharing became even easier once Lyft introduced a chatbot that allows you to request a ride through chat or voice. The chatbot provides you with driver details and ride locations. In Slack, you can even use a slash command to request a ride, letting you commute from work to home without even pulling out a cell phone.

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CONCLUSION

In my opinion, developers have not even come close to realizing the full potential of chatbots. As research into AI grows and machines become smarter, chatbots will be able to fulfill a variety of tasks in a human-like fashion. 2018 may very well be another year that chatbots have not lived up to their hype, but there is no doubt that current chatbots are already saving companies money and time through automated processes and data analytics and increasing customer satisfaction.

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/examples-brands-companies-chatbots-business-2017-10

https://www.inc.com/larry-kim/10-examples-of-how-brands-are-using-chatbots-to-de.html

https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/10/04/chatbots

https://chatbotsmagazine.com/11-examples-of-conversational-commerce-57bb8783d332

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/nl/nl/pages/data-analytics/articles/part-1-artificial-intelligence-defined.html

https://blog.algorithmia.com/introduction-natural-language-processing-nlp/

https://chatbotsmagazine.com/how-chatbots-can-enhance-your-social-media-marketing-strategy-a801ae513faa

https://www.wired.com/2017/06/facebook-messenger-woebot-chatbot-therapist/

11 thoughts on “Why Chatbots are the Future

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, Max! As you mentioned, chatbots do not have the greatest reputation. Every time I encounter one, all I can think is, “Wow, I would really rather just be talking to / texting a real person right now”. Over time, as more data is collected, I imagine my attitude will change. For now, the most interesting bot you highlighted is WoeBot. I can see it being extremely useful for organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Trevor Project.

    Looking forward to following the development of this helpful technology!

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  2. Fascinating, thorough post Max! I have to admit I never would have expected an article titled “2018: The Year of the Chatbot”, and as you point out, they “never live up to the hype”. That being said, I really appreciated the thorough examination of chatbots today, the technology implemented, and exceptional cases. The leap from a rudimentary, infuriating chatbot to a complex, AI chatbot mimicking human intelligence does not seem as far away as I had thought — and when it comes, it could disrupt entire industries! One application of chatbots that I personally use is Trim (http://www.asktrim.com/) which serves as a barebones financial assistant chatbot. I’m excited to see how the technology evolves and what the chatbot can achieve next.

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  3. Interesting post Max! I never realized how much chatbot is being integrated to replace real person sitting and waiting for the customers to come. Before I knew how much technologies are being used for developing chatbot, I never expected much out of it when using chatbot, thinking it’s merely a set answers!! Can’t wait to see in what field chatbot technology is going to expand!

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  4. Max, fantastic work! I am really looking forward to how this technology in particular develops! I’m really glad you mentioned that businesses can use chatbots for internal use as well, because I think a bunch of people associate chatbots with customer service (which limits their views from the other applications). In my startup post, I mentioned Spoke. This company has developed a chatbot to be used to answer employee questions that any HR member should be able to answer: how much vacation time do we get per year? Is the office open on this day? Etc. This technology is meant to increase productivity, so that HR and other departments don’t have to waste time answering simple questions, and can instead focus on their work and doing what’s best for their company. I also found WoeBot very intriguing: another application I had never thought of which could help a bunch of people in society! Great job.

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  5. I do agree that there’s alot of potential with Chatbots, and that we are only at the beginning of the use for them. I do expect, however, that they will be more in line with platforms like Alexa (to monitor our actual chatting IRL) rather than the text-based ones. We’re even farther from that reality, though.

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  6. Your post was really thought-provoking, Max! Chatbots have such a poor stigma, and I have always wondered why it seems like they were sort of left in the dust by the tech world. It surprises me that devices like Alexa and Siri were developed and perfected before Chatbots were significantly improved. Maybe it is because voice-recognition devices were more needed and necessary than Chatbots. However, especially after personal negative experiences with Chatbots, I think the possibility of Chatbots are underestimated. I believe that once the scope of Chatbots’ capabilities is harnessed, Chatbots will become an irreplaceable resource for both companies and customers.

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  7. Great post, Max! I found your analysis of internal Chatbots really interesting! Normally I think of Chatbots of being consumer-facing but it makes sense that they could be used within companies to make processes more efficient. I wonder how many companies already have this in place and whether most companies are looking into Chatbot technology for external or internal relations.

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  8. Great post, Max! I really enjoyed reading about WoeBot. Mental health is so prevalent across colleges nowadays, and I feel like a resource like WoeBot could potentially help students relieve some of the stress of their everyday lives, in small ways. While Chatbots may not have all the capabilities a human has, their implementation could save a lot of time and resources for companies in completing certain tasks.

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  9. Great post! I am definitely one of those people who have alway hated chat bots because of bad experiences with stupid chat bots. It looks like AI is starting to change that. Unfortunately, I feel like the companies that really need these chat bots are not the huge tech companies that already have simple and intuitive platforms. For example, I would love if United had a chatbot that could assign my Techtrek flights to my account so I could get the miles.

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  10. I actually consulted for an internal chatbot builder startup within the company I worked for in Paris this summer. https://itsalive.io/ ‘s positioning is that AI is too far off/complex/needs too large of a scale for small businesses who still want chatbots. It’sAlive helps your manually build a chatbot based on FAQ, with opportunities to only click buttons so as to not be stuck in a dead end. I’m curious whether companies like ItsAlive will take initial market share until the AI technology is ready.
    Some interesting chatbots I studied: Mona (tells you museums and cultural events near your location), Goosebump (parties happening near you), Mmmh (suggests recipes based on ingredients in your kitchen), Alix (clothing suggestions for men), Bon Entendeur (provides music suggestions based on your taste).

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