10 Questions & Answers about Chatbots


In the last couple of years, we have heard a lot about chatbots. They are being adopted rapidly by businesses in many industries including banking, entertainment, finance, healthcare and media, to name a few. A study by Business Insider shows 80% of the businesses want chatbots by 2020.

This blog aims to answer some common questions about chatbots.

1. What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that mimics conversation with people, using artificial intelligence (AI), and are revolutionizing the way we interact with the internet. A simple example is to ask a chatbot for the weather of a place you want to visit. In the keyboard era, you would open a weather app on your browser and type in the name of the place to get the forecast. With chatbots, you only have to ask “What’s the weather forecast for Paris this coming weekend.” That’s it. The chatbot will reply with the forecast.

2. Are chatbots new?

The idea to build a conversational agent is more than 50 years old, and there have been many unsuccessful attempts to build one that successfully mimics human conversation. For example, the first chatbot, named Eliza, was introduced in 1966 and was designed to interact with people as a therapist. Eliza inspired other early chatbots like PARRY in the 1970s, ALICE in the 1990s and SmarterChild in 2000. SmarterChild was integrated into a global instant messaging and SMS network which used natural language comprehension functionality to respond to questions.

3. Why all the hype now?

There have been significant advances in AI recently, which is turning what was thought to be “impossible” tasks into reality. Taking advantage of these advances, a new generation of chatbots have emerged and entered the mainstream. In the last five years, more than 50 chatbot startups have sprung up. Survey by marketsandmarkets.com predicts the global chatbot market will grow to $3.2 billion by 2021.

4. Are chatbots a result of AI advancements?

Apple released the iPhone in 2007 and Google introduced Android in 2008. This changed the smartphone market drastically, and now there are about five billion mobile phone users, of which 2.3 billion use smartphones. Coupled with other technology advancements, like the facebook messenger app that has 1.2 billion monthly users, these devices provide a good platform for the chatbot industry to come up.

5. Why the explosion of online chatbots?

In the last five years, developers have applied AI technology in different ways to build various online chatbots. For example, the chatbot Mitsuku that won Loebner Prize, claims to be an 18-year-old female. (The Loebner Prize is a form of Turing test for the AI world that is awarded to the computer program that is the most human-like.) Another interesting online chatbot is Cleverbot, which came very close to passing the Turing Test in 2011. This bot learns from each conversation and improves its responses. Another is Melody by Baidu; this healthcare chatbot gathers information, responds to patients about medical conditions and gives feedback to the doctors that help in diagnoses. There are many online chatbots available that mimic human-like conversation.

6. Are chatbots useful for businesses?

Companies in virtually all domain are adopting chatbots. In the entertainment industry, a London’s agency called Catch created GoTBoT, a facebook messenger bot that is a digital encyclopedia to help fans of Game of Thrones get answers to their questions the show. In the news industry, CNN has developed one of the most popular chatbots. And in banking, users of the HDFC Bank’s onChat can access HDFC services, such as pay their bills, via chat.

7. What the benefits of implementing a chatbot?

There are many benefits of implementing chatbots, but the most common ones are in customer services. That’s because chatbot implementation eliminates customer waiting time for getting answers to their queries, which leads to happy and loyal customers. Chatbots can help businesses cut labor costs significantly. They enable businesses-from startups to established businesses-to reach global audiences and connect in a very personal manner.

8. Are there online tools to build chatbots?

There are many online tools that can help companies set up chatbot applications quickly, some are proprietary and some are freely available. For example, api.ai are wit.ai have similar approaches that require very little coding. The Microsoft bot framework require a relatively high amount of coding but provides more flexibility. Another option is motion.ai, which provides a drag-and-drop interface. One thing these online tools have in common is companies must transfer data to the cloud to use their services. This exposes them to data theft security, which must be considered before using them. If online tools are not an option, businesses can build custom domain-specific chatbots.

9. What are the two most important components of chatbots?

Any AI-powered chatbot has two components for either building your own or using a proprietary solution. One is natural language processing (NLP), which is responsible for understanding the user’s queries. NLP involves extracting the intent and maintaining the context. The second is responsible for generating responses, which can be a basic lookup function in a database or an AI-based approach using intelligent models.

10. Are today’s chatbots truly intelligent?

This is a very common question because it can seem like chatbots are thinking and communicating like humans. Indeed, has AI reached the point where chatbots are independent conversational agents? The answer is No. Chatbots are still in their infancy and have limitations. Deep learning applications-a type of AI-have shown us how machines could learn and understand natural language, but today they cannot generate logical, context-specific responses on their own. For instance, deep learning apps cannot handle long conversations that require keeping track of what has been said. Also, they cannot handle open domain questions where the user can take the conversation in a different direction. So, we are far from a truly intelligent chatbot, but as a community, our research is going in this direction.

The chatbot industry is growing at a faster rate than the early stages of the mobile app industry. Advancements in AI, together with other technology advancements like messaging platforms, are already providing a way to build production-grade chatbots that can reach millions of people and help businesses transform and grow in the digital era.


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