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OPLIN 4cast #472: Chatbots improve their chatter

Posted in 4cast

robotA chatbot — sometimes called a chatterbot — is a software program that interacts with people via Internet messaging to answer questions or hold a conversation. Think of it as an automated online assistant. Terms like “natural language processing,” “artificial intelligence,” and “Turing test” come up in most discussions of chatbots, because they generally try very hard to appear human. Some long, detailed articles we have seen recently have been about text-based chatbots, which some people think have a stronger future than talking chatbots. For a library that uses simple text messaging to send notifications to patrons, that type of one-way communication may someday seem quaint and old-fashioned to many people. (But not as old-fashioned as a long email.)

  • The big opportunity for bots in messaging (Version One | Boris Wertz)  “The key here is removing any friction by being part of the regular workflow; for example, copy your virtual assistant on an email for an upcoming meeting and AI will take over from there. It’s easier for startups to gain traction in the business space, since the tasks are relatively cut and dry. For example, a bot can quickly grasp how to schedule a meeting with predefined rules versus having to field consumer requests on anything from ordering an anniversary present to drawing a picture of the sunset.”
  • The dark side of the coming chatbot revolution (Computerworld | Mike Elgan)  “Messaging apps are a great place to place an A.I. chatbot because we already spend so much time in those apps. We’ve accepted the bare-bones, text-only UI, which eliminates some of the uncertainties of virtual assistants that rely on voice recognition and spoken replies. But messaging chatbots also come with risks. Because human beings are complex creatures plagued by cognitive biases, irrational thinking and emotional needs, the line between messaging with a friend and messaging with A.I. will be fine to nonexistent for some people.”
  • Facebook M — The Anti-Turing test (Medium | Arik Sosman)  “When communicating with M, it insists it’s an AI, and that it lives right inside Messenger. However, its non-instantaneous nature and the sheer unlimited complexity of tasks it can handle suggest otherwise. The opinion is split as to whether or not it’s a real AI, and there seems to be no way of proving its nature one way or the other. The biggest issue with trying to prove whether or not M is an AI is that, contrary to other AIs that pretend to be human, M insists it’s an AI. Thus, what we would be testing for is humans pretending to be an AI, which is much harder to test than the other way round, because it’s much easier for humans to pretend to be an AI than for an AI to pretend to be a human.”
  • The search for the killer bot (The Verge | Casey Newton)  “As 2016 dawns, there’s a sense in Silicon Valley that the decades-old fantasy of a true digital assistant is due to roar back into the mainstream. If the trend in past years has been assistants powered by voice — Siri, Alexa, Cortana — in 2016 the focus is shifting to text. And if the bots come, as industry insiders are betting they will, there will be casualties: with artificial intelligence doing the searching for us, Google may see fewer queries. Our AI-powered assistants will manage more and more of our digital activities, eventually diminishing the importance of individual, siloed apps, and the app stores that sell them. Many websites could come to feel as outdated as GeoCities pages — and some companies might ditch them entirely.”

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