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These days, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots are everywhere on websites, SMS and social channels. Conversational AI-supported chatbots that use natural language processing (NLP) help customers deal with everything from product recommendations to order questions.
Enterprises love conversational AI chatbots, too: According to a recent Gartner report, by 2027 chatbots will become the primary customer service channel for roughly a quarter of organizations. Over half (54%) of survey respondents said they are already using some form of chatbot, virtual customer assistant (VCA) or other conversational AI platform for customer-facing applications.
According to Susan Hura, chief design officer at Kore.ai, chatbots aren’t all-knowing virtual assistants living on a website that are ready to answer every question at a moment’s notice. While integrating a conversational AI-supported chatbot may seem quick and easy, there are complex intricacies under the hood. A chatbot’s design, she explained, plays a more strategic role than one might think and requires an immense amount of human input to create.
Designing the conversational AI experience
Orlando, Florida-based Kore.ai was cited in Gartner’s 2022 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Conversational AI Platforms as offering a “no-code platform for conversational AI in a broad sense, crossing over into adjacent product categories with interface and process building capabilities.” Essentially, the company develops conversational bots for enterprises across different channels, from traditional web chatbots and SMS bots to bots in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and voice-enabled bots.
MetaBeat will bring together thought leaders to give guidance on how metaverse technology will transform the way all industries communicate and do business on October 4 in San Francisco, CA.
Hura joined the company in March to build out an expert design practice for the company.
“While it is a do-it-yourself platform, for many of our enterprise-level customers an expert team comes in to help define the framework for the bot or this suite of bots they develop,” she said.
There are five conversation designers on her team who define what the bot says to the user and develop the structure of the conversation. Additionally, she explained that there are seven natural language analysts that define how the bot listens and interprets what the user says.
“Both of those together really form the conversational experience that someone would have interacting with one of these bots,” she said.
Hura, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics and began working in speech technology while working at Bell Labs, which she noted, “… was literally because I was sitting next to visual designers who were working on a speech technology project.” Hura said there are plenty of misconceptions about conversational AI chatbots. Against this backdrop are three myths that she says need to be busted.
Myth 1: Conversational AI chatbots are ‘magic‘
Truth: It takes time and effort to design successful chatbots.
Hura said she still sees enterprise customers surprised by what conversational AI chatbots cannot do.
“I think it’s partly because there’s still an awful lot of salespeople and people in the media who portray conversational AI as if it’s magic,” she said. “As if just by designing a conversational bot, all your dreams will come true.”
However, just like any other technology, organizations have to invest the time in order to teach the bots to do the things they want it to do.
“You would never expect a human who was going to be filling the role of a virtual assistant to just automatically know everything and have all the information they need,” she explained.
That is where it’s important to realize that “understanding” is really a human word, she added. “I think when people hear the words ‘natural language understanding’ they believe the technology is based on meaning when, in fact, it’s not.”
In fact, she explained, conversational AI technology is based on language. “The bot is simply producing output based on its analysis of all the input you put into it,” she said. “The better structured that data is, the more intelligent a bot will sound.”
Myth 2: Conversational AI chatbots understand users
Truth: Chatbots need context.
Imagine a user is on a webpage interacting with a conversational AI chatbot. The user says, “it seems like there is a duplicate charge on line three.” The truth is, ‘line three’ means nothing to a bot, Hura emphasized.
“The bot is sitting there on the website, but the bot has no understanding of what’s happening in the context in which the user is seeing it,” she said. “So people often have misaligned expectations around the context of use.”
So, for instance, if a customer is shopping for an item and wants a product comparison, a bot would have to be trained not just with a product comparison chart but with all the data that was used to build that chart.
“The bot is not going to be any smarter than your website,” Hura explained. “The conversational AI-supported bot can’t answer a nuanced question if it requires more data than is available. It can only answer to the extent you’ve provided the data.”
Chatbots also require the context of the conversation itself.
“Sometimes those perceptions come down to the bot’s ability to speak in a way that is aware of the context of the conversation itself,” she said.
For example, if the bot asked the user for a piece of information like, “What is your account number?” then the following question might be “What is your password?” If the bot asked “And your password?” instead, it would feel more natural, said Hura.
“That’s the way a human would say it,” she explained. “The word ‘and’ also does a ton of work in the conversation – it indicates I’ve heard your answer and am following up with another question, it feels like the bot is aware of what’s happening.”
Myth 3: Chatbots do not need design
Truth: Conversational AI chatbot design is as important as UX product design.
Hura said chatbot design is all about user experience (UX) design. “On my team, we practice something called user-centric design with an iterative process,” said Hura. “As we’re thinking about the framework for conversations between a bot and a user, the more we know about the user – who they are, what their expectations are, what their relationship is with the company – the better.”
The first thing Hura’s team does is produce a conversational style guide, similar to the style guides created when building a mobile app, website or piece of software. “We define the sound and feel that we want this bot to have,” she explained. “It’s a fun and unique thing that defines the personality of the bot.”
A script defines what the bot says, while flowchart-type diagrams map out all the possible paths that the bot could go down.
For instance, for an application where the user calls to make a service appointment for their car. The company needs to collect the vehicle year, make and model.
“If the user says early in the conversation ‘I need to bring my Corolla in for an oil change,’ I don’t have to ask for the year, make and model because I already know a Corolla is a Toyota,” she said. “But we build flowcharts to make sure that the bot has the right words to say in any possible situation we might encounter.”
Conversational AI builds customer relationships
Overall, Hura explained that conversations are ways that people build and reinforce relationships – including with chatbots.
“We make judgments about whoever we’re talking to, more than simply that they gave an accurate answer,” she said. “And we assign bots personality, even when we’re 100% clear it’s a bot.”
That’s why making sure conversational AI chatbots have the right design is so important, she added.
“Organizations should take the time to control that and make sure that the bots speak in a way that reflects your brand value,” she said.
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NASA Says Hurricane Didn’t Hurt Artemis I Hardware, Sets New Launch Window
NASA’s Artemis I moon mission launch, stalled by Hurricane Ian, has a new target for takeoff. The launch window for step one of NASA’s bold plan to return humans to the lunar surface now opens Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 27, the space agency said Friday.
The news comes after the pending storm caused NASA to scrub the latest Artemis I Iaunch, which had been scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2. As Hurricane Ian threatened to travel north across Cuba and into Florida, bringing rain and extreme winds to the launch pad’s vicinity, NASA on Monday rolled its monster Space Launch System rocket, and the Orion spacecraft it’ll propel, back indoors to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The hurricane made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, bringing with it a catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding that left dozens of people dead, caused widespread power outages and ripped buildings from their foundations. Hurricane Ian is “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday, adding that it will take “months, years, to rebuild.”
Initial inspections Friday to assess potential impacts of the devastating storm to Artemis I flight hardware showed no damage, NASA said. “Facilities are in good shape with only minor water intrusion identified in a few locations,” the agency said in a statement.
Next up, teams will complete post-storm recovery operations, which will include further inspections and retests of the flight termination system before a more specific launch date can be set. The new November launch window, NASA said, will also give Kennedy employees time to address what their families and homes need post-storm.
Artemis I is set to send instruments to lunar orbit to gather vital information for Artemis II, a crewed mission targeted for 2024 that will carry astronauts around the moon and hopefully pave the way for Artemis III in 2025. Astronauts on that high-stakes mission will, if all goes according to plan, put boots on the lunar ground, collect samples and study the water ice that’s been confirmed at the moon’s South Pole.
The hurricane-related Artemis I rollback follows two other launch delays, the first due to an engine problem and the second because of a hydrogen leak.
Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone but is still bringing heavy rains and gusty winds to the Mid-Atlantic region and the New England coast.
What You Get in McDonalds’ New Happy-Meal-Inspired Box for Adults
You’ve pulled up to McDonald’s as a full-on adult. You absolutely do not need a toy with your meal, right? Joking. Of course you do.
The fast-food chain will soon sell boxed meals geared toward adults, and each one has a cool, odd-looking figurine inside.
The meal has an odd name — the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box — that’s based on the fashion brand collaborating with McDonald’s on this promotion.
According to McDonald’s, the box is inspired by the memory of enjoying a Happy Meal as a kid. The outside of the box is multicolored and features the chain’s familiar golden arches.
The first day you can get a Cactus Plant Flea Market Box will be Monday, Oct. 3. Pricing is set by individual restaurants and may vary, according to McDonald’s. It’ll be available in the drive-thru, in-restaurant, by delivery or on the McDonald’s app, while supplies last.
You can choose between a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets. It will also come with fries and a drink.
Now about those toys. The boxes will pack in one of four figurines. Three of the four appear to be artsy takes on the classic McDonald’s characters Grimace, Hamburglar and Birdie the Early Bird, while the fourth is a little yellow guy sporting a McDonald’s shirt called Cactus Buddy.
In other McD news, Halloween buckets could be returning to the chain this fall. So leave some room in your stomach for a return trip.
Why companies like iHeartMedia, NBCU rely on homegrown IP to build metaverse engagements
To avoid potential blowback from a skeptical audience, retailers as well as media and entertainment companies are learning to invest in their homegrown intellectual properties while building virtual brand activations inside Roblox or Fortnite.
Take, for instance, when they get it wrong.
Earlier this week, Walmart launched its own Roblox world — called Walmart Land — and was roundly mocked for it across social media given the announcement’s disjointed brand message and apparent lack of life. In one viral tweet, a Twitter user described a clip of Walmart CMO William White introducing the Roblox space as “one of the saddest videos ever created.”
To some extent, this sort of criticism is to be expected during the early days of the metaverse.
“Walmart is an iconic brand; when you see them coming into a platform like Roblox, people are going to be 10 times more critical of what is being launched,” said Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO of the Roblox developer studio Supersocial.
But Walmart’s size is not its only disadvantage as it dips its toes into Roblox. Although Walmart has a widely recognizable brand, it owns few intellectual properties that users are actually interested in experiencing virtually — a shortcoming reflected by the somewhat cavernous emptiness of Roblox’s Walmart Land.
The success of other recent brand activations is evidence that media and entertainment brands are better equipped to build metaverse spaces that can dodge online skepticism, thanks to their wealth of owned IP.
“They are having to reinvent themselves, to a certain degree, but that is in their DNA,” said Jesse Streb, global svp of technology and engineering at the agency DEPT. “So they have a unique advantage over, say, some kludgy company that sells lumber, or a construction company.”
For example, iHeartMedia’s Roblox and Fortnite spaces were inspired by the mass media corporation’s wealth of popular real-life events, such as the Jingle Ball Tour and iHeartRadio Music Festival, with virtual versions of musicians like Charlie Puth performing pre-recorded concerts that allow real-time audience interaction.
“There’s a strong brand association with the IP, down to a station level — you’re in the New York area, you probably know Z100,” said iHeartMedia evp of business development and partnerships Jess Jerrick. “The same is true for the event IP, or the IP that we now have in the podcasting space, and of course our radio broadcast talent. So there’s no shortage of really strong IP we can bring into these spaces.”
Translating real-life properties into the metaverse is also an enticing prospect for brands that view metaverse platforms as an experimental marketing channel, allowing them to bring tried-and-true IP into their virtual activations instead of designing them from the ground level. This was part of the strategy behind the recent Tonight Show activation in Fortnite Creative, which was designed in collaboration between NBCUniversal and Samsung. “We’re looking at it holistically — how do we find fans in new ways, and use IP that fans love in new ways?” said NBCU president of advertising and client partnerships Mark Markshall.
Since opening on Sept. 14, iHeartLand has already enticed over 1.5 million Roblox users to visit. The company aims to retain that attention with a schedule of virtual programming featuring popular musicians and personalities.
“At our core, we are essentially an influencer network; our broadcast talent are some of the most connected, most engaging influencers at work in media today,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeart Digital Audio Group. “That gives us this sort of superpower, to be able to go into new-ish platforms, like Roblox or Fortnite, because we talk to our listeners through those influencers.”
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