Friday, November 25, 2016

"My chat bot found my wallet" - Adrian Zumbrunnen

When you turn your website into a chatbot ...

"It was a Saturday afternoon. I met up with a friend to enjoy the occasional good weather by the lake. It was a day void of serious topics or stress. Life is good, I thought to myself.

I headed home after a few drinks to prepare for an upcoming trip. The smile on my face soon vanished when I realized that my pockets felt awfully empty. I braced myself. Three seconds later, I panicked. Where was my wallet?!

My credit card, my ID and personal stuff was in there. I felt like ****.

After calling my card issuer to block my credit card, I waited for the confirmation email to breath some sigh of relief. But to my surprise, there was a much more delightful message waiting for me right there… It was an email from my conversational website:

Title: Chat bot message
Content: I found your wallet by the lake.

Wow! I only lost my wallet 30 minutes earlier and I had already gotten an email. That’s technology working its magic right there!

I answered as fast as I could. The other person sent me his number and we met later that same day. As he was kindly handing me back my wallet, I asked:

“Thanks so much! By the way, I’m just wondering… How did you get in touch with me?”

He looked at me slightly confused and says…

“What do you mean… We had a chat, no?”

That’s when it hit me. This guy thought he was having a real conversation with me on my website."
It's an interesting story, but if you access Adrian's site you will find it hard to imagine you're talking to him (picture above). (Try it).

Adrian provides you with little 'suggestion' buttons to avoid uncontrolled natural language input. This is current best practice, but it makes the experience not dissimilar to filling in a form.


Last night I tried the new Thomson Holidays chatbot (powered by IBM's Watson). It fell apart on the second dialogue input. Admittedly it's in beta. (Try it).

Feigenbaum's old AI adage, 'in the knowledge lies the power', holds good for chatbots. The system needs to know an awful lot of dialogue flows to create the illusion of conversation. This makes building chatbots labour-intensive (for machine-learning, you need big pre-recorded conversation datasets).

I have neither, which has demotivated me from experiments with Pandorabots. That, and its simple-minded stimulus-response architecture.

Checked on Replika a couple of days ago which I have signed up to. The iPhone version will be out soon but the Android app is pushed back to 2017. The training method is Q&A via SMS: people are sending 40-50 texts per day to train their replikas. Like I said: labour intensive.


You and I know that conversation isn't simply statistically-correlated sequences of 'he says', 'she says'. It's about something. Until the meaning of conversations (data structures representing external environment and internal attitudes) is part of the architecture, chatbot conversations will continue to fall off the rails without any warning.

You can see why capturing knowledge of the real world (and of the human psychological world) is difficult for a paradigm which mostly throws ever more ingenious massively-parallel weight-learning at truly enormous datasets.*


* Huge parallel with self-driving cars. Humans drive .. which obscures the fact that driving is many distinct activities, not just one. A relatively closed system like motorway travel in good weather conditions sharply contrasts with the horribly open system of urban driving with complex traffic patterns and uncontrolled pedestrians in bad weather.

1 comment:

  1. I just tried it too: it cannot get to the second question and its first question was answered incorrectly. So the question is whether the existing AI technology has all the ingredients to make Chatbots and Self-Driving Cars actually work. Should we face the possibility that (via a Penrose style argument) in the end a purely digital theory (based on Church-Turing etc) just wont be enough?


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