Chatbots: The Negatives Seem to Abound

September 26, 2017

I read “Chatbots and Voice Assistants: Often Overused, Ineffective, and Annoying.” I enjoy a Hegelian antithesis as much as the next veteran of Dr. Francis Chivers’ course in 19th Century European philosophy. Unlike some of Hegel’s fans, I am not confident that taking the opposite tack in a windstorm is the ideal tactic. There are anchors, inboard motors, and distress signals.

The article points out that quite a few people are excited about chatbots. Yep, sales and marketing professionals earn their keep by crating buzz in order to keep their often-exciting corporate Beneteau 22’s afloat. With VCs getting pressured by those folks who provided the cash to create chatbots, the motive force for an exciting ride hurtles onward.

The big Sillycon Valley guns have been army the chatbot army for years. Anyone remember Ask Jeeves when it pivoted to a human powered question answering machine into a customer support recruit. My recollection is that the recruit washed out, but your mileage may vary.

With Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and dozens and dozens of companies with hard-to-remember names on the prowl, chatbots are “the future.” The Infoworld article is a thinly disguised “be careful” presented as “real news.”

That’s why I wrote a big exclamation point and the words “A statement from the Captain Obvious crowd” next to this passage:

Most of us have been frustrated with misunderstandings as the computer tries to take something as imprecise as your voice and make sense of what you actually mean. Even with the best speech processing, no chatbots are at 100-percent recognition, much less 100-percent comprehension.

I am baffled by this fragment, but I am confident it makes sense to those who were unaware that dealing with human utterances is a pretty tough job for the Googlers and Microsofties who insist their systems are the cat’s pajamas. Note this indication of Infoworld quality in thought an presentation:

It seems very inefficient to resort to imprecise systems when we have [sic]

Yep, an incomplete thought which my mind filled in as saying, “humans who can maybe answer a question sometimes.”

The technology for making sense of human utterance is complex. Baked into the systems is the statistical imprecision that undermines the value of some chatbot implementations.

My thought is that Infoworld might help its readers if it were to answer questions like these:

  • What are the components of a chatbot system? Which introduce errors on a consistent basis?
  • How can error rates of chatbot systems be reduced in an affordable, cost effective manner?
  • What companies are providing third party software to the big girls and boys in the chatbot dodge ball game?
  • Which mainstream chatbot systems have exemplary implementations? What are the metrics behind “exemplary”?
  • What companies are making chatbot technology strides for languages other than English?

I know these questions are somewhat more difficult to answer than a write up which does little more than make Captain Obvious roll his eyes. Perhaps Infoworld and its experts might throw a bone to their true believers?

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2017

Comments

Got something to say?





  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta