“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ‘
The slings and arrows of outrageous language,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of intent.”
In early 2012, at the big data startup I co-founded, we were sitting on an award-winning Hadoop based search engine, which seemed to offer new
We picked Google chat and Facebook messenger for the UX delivery relying on their implementation of XMPP (discontinued in mid 2013). XMPP is the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, a set of open technologies for instant messaging, presence, multi-party chat, voice and video calls, collaboration, lightweight middleware, content syndication, and generalized routing of XML data.
We launched Txtland…
Without going into rest of the story as to what happened to
As users typed we parsed and picked up ‘action words’ like stock, weather, ticket, item, SR, etc. and responses in the chatbot would provide options against that ‘action word’ along with a rudimentary, ‘TYPE THIS’ to find out more… so on. It was quite elementary. The text to engage with Txtland, a program, was honest and more machine like. If you attached a # in front of a phrase, it became an action for Txtland. See screenshot below:
From a design point of you, I pondered, as I see a proliferation of chatbots across industries, is why do the creators of chatbots continue to imitate human style, knowing well it cant live upto that label. Not authentic!
Fundamentalproblem with chatbots is that the interface between the user and the chatbot or agent is the same as what is used in normal, regular conversations between one human and another human. And this is validated by recent research from Pegasystems (NASDAQ: PEGA), the software company empowering customer engagement at the world’s leading enterprises
There is an opportunity that remains unexplored today to redesign the container on the tool using which a human user knows and is comfortable to chat with an artificial agent or a bot. Such a design should include predefined canned phrases and gestures. Research needs to explore whether search gestures can also be used by
That would be
What Chatbots can be!
I speculate that this sort of progress and exploration could help the ongoing effort in the digital transformation of businesses, including automation of business processes, strapped on with a new manner of interacting with ‘cognitive computing.’ Thinking about
One benefit of having machines have a new language to communicate with humans, and that humans retain theirs as distinct from it, we could even block or program into the machines an ability to not process certain intimate or personal human phrases. This would limit machines to what we envisage for them to productively engage with and perform within those boundary conditions efficiently. Like a bot that is expert in psephology or another in string theory.
Assuming one gets past this ability of a chatbot communication or its UX, then comes the challenge of figuring out if there is a hierarchy among them.
Henry VI, Part III [IV, 1]
King Edward IV: “Now, messenger, what letters or what news from France?”
Messenger: “My sovereign liege, no letters; and few words, But such as I, without your special pardon,
Dare not relate.”
King Edward IV: “Go to, we pardon thee: therefore, in brief, Tell me their words as near as thou canst guess them. What answer makes King Lewis unto our letters?”
Here in Shakespeare’s play, the ‘guess’ is politically loaded. Hiding or revealing the facts may lead to harsh consequences to the messenger facing King Edward IV. Again, the pardon that follows hazarding a guess, leads the messenger to confidently conjecture on the circumstances. Guess is what humans do a wonderful job with. Guessing is such a fine way to move forward. And in the case of a chatbot, especially a smart AI
Can we think of chatbot conversations that approximate the King and his messenger like above. Conversations that are guided more by heuristic principles than algorithmic models. From
“An algorithm is the description of an automated solution to a problem. What the algorithm does is precisely defined. The solution could or could not be the best possible one but you know from the start what kind of result you will get. You implement the algorithm using some programming language to get (a part of) a program. Now, some problems are hard and you may not be able to get an acceptable solution in an acceptable time. In such cases you often can get a not too bad solution much faster, by applying some arbitrary choices (educated guesses): that’s a heuristic. A heuristic is still a kind of an algorithm, but one that will not explore all possible states of the problem, or will begin by exploring the most likely ones.“
Irrespective of whether machine learning such as the reinforcement learning model (see image below) can be applied to build a ‘guess-as-you-go-chat’ or some other, what matters is why?
But why bother with guessing, I mean heuristic or 80:20 approaches that may make the chatbot fall on its face! (< any emoji to represent that?)
In ‘Models of Ecological Rationality: The Recognition Heuristic‘ the authors Daniel G. Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer, from Max Planck Institute for Human Development suggests that a ‘Fast and Frugal‘ approach is one efficient method available. Can this guide the design of a chatbot?
From their paper, “One view of heuristics is that they are imperfect versions of optimal statistical procedures considered too complicated for ordinary minds to carry out. In contrast, the authors consider heuristics to be adaptive strategies that evolved in tandem with fundamental psychological mechanisms. The recognition heuristic, arguably the most frugal of all heuristics, makes inferences from patterns of missing knowledge. This heuristic exploits a fundamental adaptation of many organisms: the vast, sensitive, and reliable capacity for recognition. The authors specify the conditions under which the recognition heuristic is successful and when it leads to the counterintuitive less-is-more effect in which less knowledge is better than more for making accurate inferences.“
What this would do, in addition to the mundane, repetitive, well-defined, established routines that chatbots can address decently today, is also to add that variety, that ‘masala‘ to the curry; or currying up a conversation with a human! Just more breadth.
To give Dr.Hook’s popular song a twist – take the pussy cat and turn it to a tiger; wild, in the jungle from the zoo.
Chatbot, why be anything but wild 🙂
Or as Luciana, the unmarried lady, so full of advice, says in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors:
“She never reprehended him but mildly,
Why bear you these rebukes and answer not?”