bots at your ser­vice

Are bots the next fron­tier in AI? Les­lie Timmy, Re­varn Cy­ber­net­ics, of­fers you the an­swer.

The Smart Manager - - Contents - LES­LIE TIMMY IS CEO AND LEAD SOFT­WARE AR­CHI­TECT AT RE­VARN CY­BER­NET­ICS LLP.

As an in­dus­try, we are on the cusp of a new fron­tier that pairs the power of nat­u­ral hu­man lan­guage with ad­vanced ma­chine in­tel­li­gence—Satya Nadella, CEO of Mi­crosoft said at Build 2016.* The re­cent launch of Google Allo ush­ers in an age of chat­bots, where com­pa­nies will in­creas­ingly rely on AI-based tech­nolo­gies for pro­vid­ing a seam­less and per­son­al­ized cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence. Will bot tech­nol­ogy be at the fore­front of the AI rev­o­lu­tion glob­ally?

Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence (AI), today, is re­ceiv­ing more trac­tion than ever be­fore, espe­cially the field of con­ver­sa­tional bots that has grown ex­po­nen­tially. The def­i­ni­tion of bot stays sim­ple—it is a soft­ware en­tity that con­verses with hu­mans us­ing AI. But with the ad­vance­ments in AI, bots today have be­come more hu­man-like and are be­ing ap­plied in a va­ri­ety of ap­pli­ca­tions.

For a long time, AI bots were un­heard of and were mostly por­trayed in sci-fi movies as su­per-in­tel­li­gent en­ti­ties that ei­ther help save the world or take over it. It all changed when big cor­po­ra­tions an­nounced their in­vest­ment plans in AI—Ap­ple, Mi­crosoft, Google, and Face­book have dived into AI-pow­ered bot tech­nolo­gies and are in­vest­ing huge chunks of money and time in de­vel­op­ing AI. It is the re­cent in­volve­ment of these com­pa­nies that has brought bots into the lime­light. With the ar­rival of Ap­ple’s Siri, Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana, Ama­zon’s Alexa, and Google As­sis­tant, it is pretty clear as to how much the ‘bot’ buzz­word has caught on and where this trend is go­ing to take the world in the com­ing years.

ad­van­tages

No mat­ter which ver­ti­cal a busi­ness op­er­ates in, it is im­per­a­tive for it to see the rise of bots as a great op­por­tu­nity—to con­nect with their cus­tomers at a whole new level that helps not only en­hance cus­tomer-brand re­la­tion­ships but also per­son­al­ize the cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence. Your cus­tomers do not have to down­load any spe­cial app to get con­nected, in­stead all they need to do is to open their fa­vorite mes­sag­ing app to start con­vers­ing with your bot.

Bots pro­vide a highly per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ence by fil­ter­ing out user needs in chat ses­sions that can last for a minute or two. It is this as­pect of per­son­al­iza­tion that is in­spir­ing ma­jor ecom­merce play­ers to build bots that help their cus­tomers de­cide bet­ter on on­line pur­chases.

Apart from bring­ing your brand voice to life, an added ad­van­tage of us­ing bots is that they en­able great con­trol over data min­ing and in­sights, which for some com­pa­nies is a top busi­ness pri­or­ity.

Since bots serve as po­ten­tial can­di­dates for re­plac­ing hu­mans in key ar­eas, com­pa­nies with ex­ist­ing chat sup­port sys­tems may find it eas­ier to mi­grate to au­to­mated bot­pow­ered sup­port sys­tems—as they can make use of ex­ist­ing chat logs and other data col­lected from hu­man-to­hu­man con­ver­sa­tions to cal­i­brate the knowl­edge base of the bots. Not to men­tion that bots re­quire only a frac­tion of the re­sources to op­er­ate when com­pared to hir­ing a hu­man agent.

For com­pa­nies look­ing to get in­volved in de­vel­op­ing their own cus­tom AI-based bot plat­form, it is im­por­tant to make the first im­pres­sion right espe­cially when AI is in­volved. Be­ing a de­vel­oper-cen­tric com­pany, it was im­por­tant that Re­varn came up with a bot ar­chi­tec­ture that could be used by our de­vel­oper base to cre­ate and pub­lish bots on all ma­jor plat­forms. For this, we chose to de­sign a bot au­thor­ing lan­guage—SIML—which pro­vided so­lu­tions to many ba­sic prob­lems.

Com­ing up with such a suc­cess­ful lan­guage was not an easy task. We wanted users and ex­pert de­vel­op­ers to shape the de­vel­op­ment process. Hence, we changed our busi­ness model and gave free ac­cess to all in­di­vid­ual de­vel­op­ers and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes to build their bots on our plat­form. The feed­back was mon­u­men­tal and in a course of just one year, we had come up with key fea­tures that re­main un­par­al­leled.

al­ter­na­tive to apps

One of the rea­sons why apps are be­ing threat­ened the most by bots is the fact that for users, chat­ting is a far more fa­mil­iar ex­pe­ri­ence when com­pared to us­ing new apps with their cus­tom-de­signed user in­ter­face. Also, un­like apps, it is less chal­leng­ing to up­date and main­tain a bot. More­over, there are dozens of mes­sag­ing plat­forms such as Telegram, Slack, What­sApp, Skype, and WeChat that are be­ing used world­wide, and these eas­ily act as con­tainer plat­forms that pro­vide a fer­tile ground for bot de­ploy­ment.

risks in­volved

There are def­i­nitely a few caveats with re­spect to blindly jump­ing on the band­wagon of bots due to the fact that the tech­nol­ogy is still in its in­fancy. More­over, chat plat­forms may seem eas­ier to mas­ter and de­velop upon, but the AI

Bots pro­vide a highly per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ence by fil­ter­ing out user needs in chat ses­sions that can last for a minute or two.

that is re­quired to power in­tel­li­gent and non-intrusive con­ver­sa­tions with hu­man users is a bit com­pli­cated. If your bot of­ten would say, “I am sorry I do not un­der­stand your query,” your cus­tomers are likely to aban­don the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.

Com­pa­nies ini­tially must stick to sim­ple con­ver­sa­tional bots and scale up grad­u­ally. One must not put the en­tire rep­u­ta­tion of one’s busi­ness and brand into the hands of soft­ware al­go­rithms that tend to give de­railed and non­sen­si­cal replies to users. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple would be how the bot named Tay from Mi­crosoft tainted the com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion af­ter hav­ing trans­formed from a fun chat bot to a ‘racist’. Nonethe­less, it was quickly taken off­line be­fore it did more dam­age.

De­spite their tremen­dous po­ten­tial, com­pa­nies at the mo­ment should rather use bots to im­prove the ser­vice de­liv­ered by their ex­ist­ing cus­tomer ser­vice agents in­stead of down­right re­plac­ing them. In its essence, the se­cret lies in cre­at­ing a hy­brid sys­tem that merges re­sponses by hu­man agents with the ones gen­er­ated by bots to cut down on re­sponse time and re­solve cus­tomer ser­vice is­sues faster.

Com­pa­nies at the mo­ment should rather use bots to im­prove the ser­vice de­liv­ered by their ex­ist­ing cus­tomer ser­vice agents in­stead of down­right re­plac­ing them.

the fu­ture

When we first started as a small re­search group fid­dling around AI tech­nolo­gies back in 2010, the de­mand for AI-based prod­ucts in the coun­try was not this high, but it was not long when we re­al­ized that it was gain­ing strong mo­men­tum. We first cre­ated Syn Virtual As­sis­tant, a cus­tom­iz­a­ble plat­form for cre­at­ing dig­i­tal as­sis­tants for smart house and office projects, and later de­signed a lan­guage for cre­at­ing in­tel­li­gent bots. It took nearly six years of re­search be­fore we could come up with sta­ble frame­works but it was worth the in­vest­ment.

Dur­ing our course of de­vel­op­ing AI-re­lated prod­ucts, it has be­come ap­par­ent that ev­ery as­pect of AI comes with its own set of prob­lems that need to be ad­dressed in its en­tirety de­pend­ing on the project at hand. AI is the holy grail of com­puter sci­ence, and in­tel­li­gent con­ver­sa­tional bots are de­vel­op­ing new ways for AI tech­nolo­gies to help busi­nesses get con­nected with their cus­tomers and build strong re­la­tion­ships.

As the young gen­er­a­tion of today is will­ing to ex­per­i­ment with emerg­ing AI tech­nolo­gies and are get­ting quite ac­cus­tomed with bots, it is ob­vi­ous they will soon be ex­pect­ing bots to de­liver seam­less brand ex­pe­ri­ences with higher lev­els of per­son­al­iza­tion. The fu­ture of AI is as bright as ever, and in­dulging in bot tech­nolo­gies would be a great step for­ward for any com­pany that wishes to be a part of the AI rev­o­lu­tion. ■

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