business messaging blog
How chatbots do what they do
Scott Navratil

Chatbots are like humans in more ways than one. Obviously they’re designed to simulate conversation with a human so they have the ability to understand and formulate sentences. But they’re also like humans in the sense that they learn and develop just as a human infant must develop into an adult. Today, chatbots are still in their infancy but they have potential to develop a lot. If you’re considering developing a chatbot for your brand, then it’s helpful to know a little about how chatbots work, where they are in their development (their abilities and limitations), and what artificial intelligence researchers are working on to improve them.

How they work

Chatbots use elements of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to try to determine what a human conversant is saying to it. Then, based on what it’s programmed to do, it will give a response. Chatbots take a while to program because they have to learn as a human customer service agent would have to learn. Coders don’t create the program and let it loose to learn on its own either. They have to feed it actual conversations and then test it across hundreds or even thousands of scenarios constantly checking for accuracy and making adjustments until it’s capable of successfully assisting customers a majority of the time.

Where they are in their development

Chatbots have come a long way in the last few years. Chatbots used to only be able to recognize a handful of pre-selected phrases. Programmers would design a chatbot to be able to differentiate between a handful of different requests or questions. Advances in natural language processing in particular, have allowed chatbot programmers to create more advanced bots that are better at using context and syntax to determine meaning from a question even if it has never been asked the question in that exact way before.

Chatbots, like other artificially intelligent systems can draw from vast resources of data at a moment’s notice. It’s memory can store the dictionary definition for every word in existence. It’s biggest limitation is parsing language, or determining meaning, when the syntax is unusual. Humans have so many idioms and non-literal sayings that bots simply can’t understand. Interestingly, humans have no problem reading unusual syntax and understanding the intent behind it even by the age of four.

The future of chatbots

Tech giants like Google, IBM, and Facebook, have managed to create much more advanced AI machines that are more capable of parsing meaning and simulate human speech so the technology for more advanced chatbots is already a reality. The problem is that the amount of processing power needed to run such a chatbot aren’t at all practical for the average consumer and so aren’t available to the general public. As the hardware catches up to the programming, expect to see bots that are capable of doing far more for businesses than they can already do.

Chantel Fullilove

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