Website Chat Functionality and Chat Bots in Web Design

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From GUI to chatbot:

The chatbot is maybe the latest chapter in the story of user interfaces. The story began in the 1980s with the introduction of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to make computers more accessible for mass markets. Early in 2016, we saw the introduction of the first wave of artificial intelligence technology in the form of  website chat functionality and chatbots that gave the appearance of intelligence when they interpreted human speech or typed language and completed tasks asked of them.

Social media platforms like Facebook allowed developers to create responsive chatbots for their brands or services. Consumers can carry out some of their daily actions within their messaging platforms.

Conversational Interfaces:

Consumers now find themselves at the beginning of an era of conversational interfaces. It’s the beginning of a time where no screen or keyboard will be necessary. A free-standing robot will give us answers or obey commands just in response to spoken commands, or even provide a level of conversation and companionship. Eventually, many of us may not be able to distinguish the conversations we have with our chatbots from those with our friends. That may be how AI and Bots will  change the world of retail website design.

We imagine these intelligent chatbots ambivalently, with both desire and trepidation. It would be great to be able to say anything to a machine without paying a social price. At the same time, there is the fear that one might lose part of his or her humanity in the process.

Make bots appear socially aware:

How do you make a chatbot intelligent? In 2013, the film “Her” came out and frightened many. It’s about a man who upgrades to an intelligent bot-controlled operating system that sounds like a woman and gives him everything he wants (anything that can be fulfilled by word and image that is). Eventually, Theodore, the movie protagonist, falls in love with the operating system and gives up much of his human connection–bringing his computer with him to social events as if it were his date.

An article in the culture section of The New Statesman (interestingly enough headlined, “I don’t have ethics”) described the latest conversation chatbot developed by Google engineers as follows:

“…this system uses a the heady combination of IT helpdesk transcripts and Hollywood film scripts to come up with its own replies.”

The article continues,

“This odd juxtaposition may explain the somewhat dystopic nature of conversations held with the machine so far. The robot can easily glide through discussions of IT problems, but things got a little existential once [they] moved into more human topics.”

This chatbot absorbs a vocabulary and lines of conversation much like human beings do, from what it “reads” and what it’s taught. It throws out lines like a salesman, just like human beings do. Perhaps if the machine had a broader range of “education,” the results could be much closer to the scary reality. The title of the article comes from a frank admission by the chatbot herself. Here is where the title of the article comes from:

  • Human: tell me the definition of morality.
  • Machine: I don’t have ethics.
  • Human: look, I need help. I need to know more about morality.
  • Machine: I don’t know what ethics is.

Now we find ourselves at the beginning of a time when the artificial intelligence within the chatbot is connected to a virtually unlimited source of human knowledge. It will gain its “education” from the cloud. This reach promises to vastly improve the response capability and language proficiency of any chatbot.

The article notes that the researchers at Google say that their chatbot still lacks a “coherent personality.” To this the article’s author responds,

“Personally, I’m getting a strong sense of this robot’s personality, though–namely, a grumpy anti-philosopher with a hatred of children.”

This article leads to a couple of important points about chatbots. First of all, chatbots have never developed their own point-of-view. They have no real stake in their conversation. Nothing really hurts them or delights them. Second of all, the intelligence of the chatbot has as much to do with living observer’s perception of intelligence as it has to do with any quality built into the chatbot.

Robots:

Chatbots are coming off of computers. Speech based user interfaces can sit in their own bodies on our desks or coffee tables, or even motion-capable and emotion-response capable robot bodies or heads,  and respond to our voices with selfless servile responses. This increases the apparent intelligence of the chatbot because it links to a sense of autonomy.

It’s with an uncanny understanding that the designers of most chatbots provide them with female names and voices, like Siri and Cortana. Amazon’s “Echo” stand-alone robot device uses the voice and persona of Alexa.  Alaska Airlines recently introduced a travel assistant chatbot called Jenn. Consider the artificial voices you hear on a regular basis. They are virtually all women, because women are those who historically and traditionally perform the kinds of tasks that chatbots perform, in our labor gendered culture.

Last year, an article published under the headline, “Sex robots could be ‘biggest trend of 2016′” described a growing cultural trend as more lonely humans seek mechanical companions. Intelligent sex dolls are already being marketed. They come with the artificial intelligence that gives them “the illusion of sentience.”

Artificial intelligence may be in its infancy, but several robotic companies have been developing (mostly female) human robots for years. Hanson Robotics is one company that has been developing chatbot-based robots. The latest is called Sophia, a learning and expressive robot designed to provide customer service. The robot comes complete with a female face. Sophia’s creator says,

“I believe that robots will become people. I believe in time they will develop the complete capability of a human, to understand us, to have general intelligence and the willful desire to grow and reach their potential the way humans experience it.”

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