Chatbots considered harmful

We all think we can spot fads, hype, bubbles, and the next big thing. I think so too. After all aren’t we the heroes of our own stories?

I for one, think the chat bot interface also known as:

  • bots
  • chat bots
  • artificial intelligence (AI)
  • goal oriented dialog systems
  • conversational bot
  • conversational UI

will,

  • make UI harder to test
  • make the user experience worse

Conversational UI will make UI harder to test

Developers can relate to how hard it is to test UI of any sort. This is because UI exposes the parametricity of the automata. It describes in what ways can the machine differ in behavior based on the inputs provided in the UI.

Conversational UI as described above increases the number of ways the application is open to user interaction. For example:

bot

This makes systems harder to test. Most exceptional interactions like the ones above will have to be off-loaded to a call center based in India.

Conversational UI will make user experience worse

Alfred North Whitehead said:

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.

I concede people like to talk and state what they want without much thinking. People hate structured interactions. Example: People hate the “press-one-for-…” Interactive voice response (IVR) menus that plague telephony, and they hate the eternal wait that follows for a human interaction.

However conversational UI will not be a substitute for human interaction or even an IVR. In fact, it will be worse than an IVR menu because people have high expectations from a conversation. They expect to be able to state their need without much thought. When these high expectations are not met, they will treat conversational UI with much more derision that an IVR.

Figuring out Intents from conversations is getting better all the time. But I think it is easy to think of ways in which, the bots cannot understand you. A Dialog (not dialogue) based chatbot interactions which do not allow free text responses, and only allow restricted responses or dialog interactions, will become common as a result and we will be back to a having a GUI/IVR in chat like form. But that increases or requires the same number of interactions, and civilization will not advance.

The hope is to improve conversational UI by training classifiers from the dataset created by humans currently willing to interact with conversational UI through structured interactions. The hope is to achieve this fast enough and beat the Turing Test before people start giving up on conversational UI.

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