In the glorious days of AOL Instant Messenger, when screen names and out-of-office messages were serious literary activities, a mysterious outsider chatted beyond the dial-up line and trained legions of rude youth in the art of conversation. Who was this villainous word-smith, this tireless anger of teenage millennials? Certainly no mortal was able to generate answers with such speed, charm and unshakable security. It turned out to be a bot, an artificial chat companion called SmarterChild, and it was great.
Regardless of the subject, intensity or logic of the challenger in conversation, SmarterChild always had the last word. Back in a corner, it would offer news, weather, and movie updates. As an object of ridicule, it would instruct the perpetrators about the importance of good manners. Best of all, SmarterChild was always up for discussion and endeavored to give the most serious answers his programming would allow.
That was the beginning of the 2000s. Not long after, Facebook nudged the world, AIM went through a mass exodus, and SmarterChild began a longer stay after the parent company was taken over by Microsoft. Chatbots have largely been forgotten, but in the years that followed, as we were still learning to thumb, swipe, and scroll, it was rumored that SmarterChild triggered an AI revival in the wild. Whatever the truth, we've closed the loop and chatbots have once again claimed our shrinking attention spans. Unfortunately, we still don't know what to think of them.
Read: [6 common misconceptions about UX/UI designers]
The specter of SmarterChild is strong with us. We expect bots to be buds just to spot a lot of duds. The way companies marketed bots didn't help. We were promised companions, assistants, and friends, but these are human roles. Chatbots have unique skills that humans don't. If we look at them as non-human tools, they offer business opportunities that people cannot offer. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about their skills. This is all the more true when it comes to the underlying technology.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding are major conceptual obstacles for most. On the one hand, computers are very adept at recognizing human speech, recognizing patterns in conversations, and converting text into speech. This is natural language processing.
On the other hand, computers are unaffected differentiators of intent, especially when ambiguity, a constant of human communication, is involved. This is the understanding of natural language. Bots speak a good game, but understand very little if meaning or language habits are outside of their programming. As a result, opinions about chatbots are rather dogmatic.
At one end of the spectrum are the Doomsayer the conspirators who believe that chatbots become more human than their creators, and it is only a matter of time before WE answer nonsensical questions. At the other end, we have the AI evangelists who are looking for a day on which bots take on any task that people find undesirable, and all with increasing profits.
There is plenty of misinformation, but we want to break through the exaggeration and break things down nicely and easily. This infographic is nothing more than a direct conversation about the most important chatbot concepts that everyone needs to know in order to conduct an expert-level conversation.
This article was originally published by Micah Bowers, a freelance brand designer and editor for Toptal, on TopTal Design Blog. You can read it here.
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