Combine Humans with AI for Chatbot Success (for Now)

September 25, 2017

For once, humans are taking work from bots. The Register reports, “Dismayed by Woeful AI Chatbots, Boffins Hired Real People—And Went Back to Square One.” Today’s AI-empowered devices can seem pretty smart—as long as one sticks to the script. Until we have chatbots that can hold their own with humans in conversation, though, Chorus may give users the best of both worlds. The app taps into a human workforce through Amazon Mechanical Turk, and was developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, and Ariel University. A PDF of their paper can be found here. Writer Thomas Claburn reports:

It was hoped by businesses the world over that conversational software could replace face-to-face reps and people in call centers, as the machines should be far cheaper and easier to run. The problem is simply that natural language processing in software is not very good at the moment.


‘Due to the lack of fully automated methods for handling the complexity of natural language and user intent, these services are largely limited to answering a small set of common queries involving topics like weather forecasts, driving directions, finding restaurants, and similar requests,’ the paper explains. … [Researchers] devised a system that connects Google Hangouts, through a third-party framework called Hangoutsbot, with the Chorus web server, which routes queries to on-demand workers participating in Amazon Mechanical Turk.

The team acknowledges they are not the first to combine a chatbot with real people, citing the crowd-sourced app for blind iPhone users, VizWiz. Of course, employing humans brings its own set of problems. For example, they do not come equipped with an auto-timeout, and they sometimes let their emotions get the better of them. It can also be difficult to find enough workers to answer all queries quickly. Researchers see Chorus as an interim solution that, they hope, will also suggest ways to improve automated chat going forward.

Cynthia Murrell, September 25, 2017


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