[Berlin, GERMANY] Conversational software robots, or “bots” for short, could
revolutionize communication on the Web. The technology is already available.
This is the result of a current study by /:piranhaz focusing on the way bots
function, knowledge engineering, project management, and the
requirements of communication. Bots lead people through Web sites,
provide specialized information, and improve the flow of information
between man and machine. A lot of people were able to speak with Twipsy
at the Expo in Hanover. Twipsy was not only the Expo’s mascot but also a
Powerful e-commerce applications have been a long time coming, but the
market is changing rapidly. Call centers are facing competition. For all
that the Web has become a part of everyday life for millions of
e-citizens (e-government, e-commerce, e-mail), personal contact is
vanishing. Avatars and conversational agents are picking up on this
trend towards automation. They personalize communication on the Web and
are sympathetic listeners to their conversational partners. Eight German
manufacturers of software shells for the development of bots answer the
In addition to the avatars we are familiar with from net-based
role-playing games, another mysterious expression has come about:
synthespians. Synthespians are virtual actors that are used for digital
manipulation in film production, particularly for dangerous stunts. But
there are other areas of application as well. Oliver Reed died during
the filming of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, and missing frames were then
generated on a computer. In Kathryn Bigelow’s film Strange Days, the
enormous crowd at the millennium celebrations was digitally cloned
technology that was applied to dinosaurs and lifeless dolls in Jurassic
Park and Toy Story can also be applied to people. Thanks to the film and
entertainment industries, we can expect the demand for virtual humanoids
of a professional cinematic standard to increase: just think of E-Cyas
and the Terminator. The technological developments for avatars and bots
will affect synthespians and vice-versa. We can infer from the study
that the next five to ten years will bring some interesting confluences.
Efforts are being made today to enhance bots through higher function
building blocks and greater differentiation with internal mechanical
autonomous components. The Interprice company promises semi-automatic
learning capabilities (machine learning), grammatical analysis as a
software component, and knowledge representation.
The authors of the
study suspect that manufacturers will follow this example for
competitive reasons if nothing else. One can only speculate what effect
this will have over the next five years. Conversational bots that are
implemented for commercial purposes today – unlike ALICEbot – always
reach their dialogue limitations rather quickly, and users are painfully
aware of the stiffness of the bots’ pre-fabricated answers. Assuming
that avatars and bots will be populating web sites to an increasing
degree (and this is the prognosis), there will be considerable
technological pressure due to user expectations, competition, and new
methods from the laboratories.
Images and Speech
Karl Kraus said that language was the most difficult language with which
to make yourself understood. Nowhere is this as true as in the
communication with a computer. The GUI standard encouraged the intuitive
handling of software products, but the flood of information is growing.
There are a billion sites on the Web! Everyone wants help with searching
for and finding things. There is a real customer demand for a
conversational interface. And that is exactly what a bot is. Bots
understand natural language, they carry out ta
sks for their
conversational partners, and they have a face.
Some bots are only chatterbots. People can chat with them. Sometimes
they get muddled up. They often tell jokes. The best ones compete for
the coveted Loebner Prize in New York. The winner in 2000 was ALICEbot.
The entire study can be found at piranhaz.com.