Set your chatbot free, before it's too late

Article by Chris Jones

Within the deluge of recent chatbot headlines this has to be my favourite.

"AI coach will train hopeless chatbots to pass the Turing test".

Let's be clear; I'm enthusiastic about chatbots, AI, in general. No Elon Musk doomsayer here. I'm sure over time the odd evil genius, or bored teenager will do something silly, followed by the artificial-intelligence-controlled press making a big deal about the whole thing. However, the idea of a computer program being able to answer a question, as a human would understand it through learning and natural language, is a beautiful thing that will help make things better.

Currently, there are a lot of very ordinary chatbots out there, confusing folk with poor conversation and stilted personalities. It's a problem, but one that will soon change. According to a recent Forrester Research executive survey, just 4 percent of companies have deployed chatbots, though 31 percent are testing them or have plans to roll them out. That number is only set to grow; this means there are opportunities to lead, but the window of opportunity is closing.

So! What next?

First, if you haven't done so already I strongly urge you to create a chatbot today. It doesn't need to have the dry wit of Siri or be able to crush Google's AlphaGo, but it should help you solve one simple repetitive task within your business, meet a challenge, or get an idea to market. Current favourites here at Interesting are Chatfuel for the super simple or at the other end of the scale Microsoft's bot framework (yes we know the TAY story, moving on).

Now find a person who can write a narrative, a copywriter maybe, better still a screenwriter! Someone who understands how to build and develop character. The "Dawn of the Copywriter" within the digital age is finally upon us, and not before time.

Next, start creating a dialogue with the chatbot to see what happens around your single objective, build up a small vocabulary that your audience will respond to positively. Yes this is an extension of your brand, but don't fall into the trap of creating an AI brand evangelist - no one likes those people. Make it real. Make it personable.

OK! Time to set it free. Track it like you would your website stats, make small adjustments just like you do to your campaigns, give it new tasks it can solve, watch it grow - Don't worry! You aren't going to wake up tomorrow to discover the chatbot you created is now sentient and has taken over your company or insulted all your customers. You are now up and running with a chatbot, that will learn to help your customers and learn to help you.

So why the urgency to get started. Simple - I don't want you to have a dumb chatbot. I want your computer-driven bot to become human-feeling, to the point where the customer won't be able to detect the difference. Start investing your time now so that within the next few years (when the chatbot consultants, therapist and co arrive in force) you will be ahead of the curve with a well educated, friendly, on point chatbot who doesn't need an AI coach to help it pass the Turing test.