What Does It Take to Develop the Smartest AI Chat Bots?

February 28, 2022 • Shannon Flynn


Chatbots have existed nearly as long as the internet. Still, before introducing AI and machine learning, they relied on a series of pre-programmed responses. They couldn’t hold what most people would consider a conversation. As computers have gotten more intelligent, so have chatbots and other AI-based programs. They’re not perfect and aren’t near passing the Turing Test. This test is used to quantify whether an AI program has gained sentience or not. They are taking steps in the right direction. What does it take to develop the smartest AI chat bots? What applications might we see for this technology in the future?

Chat Bot Applications

Beyond the novelty of these programs, are there any practical applications for chatbots? Customer service specialists find them incredibly useful when it comes to tasks like answering frequently asked questions. The answers to these questions are likely available on the company’s website. Chatbots can fill in the gap for clients who would rather talk to a person to have their questions answered. 

Roughly 80% of businesses expect to have some sort of chatbot integration in place by 2022. Experts estimate that companies can save as much as 30% on their customer service expenses by adopting chatbots. From a business perspective, this can be an incredible boon. For the consumer, it can help ensure that they get the answers they need quickly. This helps keep them happy, which can be a challenge. It also ensures they can get the help they need even if the customer service office is closed. 

Chatbots are even beginning to emerge in the healthcare industry. These AI-powered solutions can help keep patients and healthcare professionals connected. These bots are HIPAA compliant, providing a secure network for patients who might have questions. General queries about their diagnoses, prescriptions, or treatment plans might not need to be answered by a doctor or nurse.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. New applications are emerging for this sort of AI-powered chatbot every year. What does it take to create these systems and develop the smartest AI chatbot?

Creating the Smartest AI Chat Bots

Creating the smartest AI chat bots starts with figuring out which type of chatbot you will focus on. Choose from text-based, voice-based or hybrid models. Text-based chatbots are probably the most common, though voice-based ones — like Alexa, Siri and Cortana — also have their place. Yes, the latter is generally described as virtual assistants. The fact that they’re using AI to answer questions and complete tasks mean it could be argued that they are simply upgraded chatbots. There is also a hybrid option that could potentially handle queries in both formats. 

Programmers break chatbots down into two approaches. Rule-based chatbots are simple and can only respond according to the rules used in their creation. Those aren’t the chatbots that we’re here to talk about. Self-learning chatbots use machine learning and artificial intelligence to either retrieve answers from an existing database or generate new responses based on programmed research and retrieval parameters. 

At their most basic, AI chatbots are call and response programs. The user provides the input or call, and based on that input, the AI creates a response. There are many more steps in the process, but this is the foundation for most AI chat systems. 

Understanding Natural Language Processing

The most significant difference between more traditional rule-based chatbots is that you don’t need to ask a specific question. That is the joy of natural language processing. It’s why Alexa can understand your toddler and why Google provides good answers when your question might not make the most sense. IBM defines natural language processing as a branch of computer science “that gives computers the ability to understand the text and spoken words in much the same way that human beings can.”

Natural language processing is a relatively new technology in the grand scheme of things. Regardless of its novelty, it will be essential for these chatbots moving forward. People don’t want to take the time to carefully structure their queries in a language that the system will understand. They want to ask their questions and get their answers back quickly without worrying about where that period or comma needs to go to complete a line of code. 

The Importance of Supervised Learning

The internet is home to a vast wealth of information that the smartest AI chat bots could use to craft the perfect response, but leaving these systems open in such a way that the general public can influence them is not always the best idea. The internet is, in many ways, the world’s largest bridge, and with bridges come trolls. 

Microsoft learned this lesson in 2016 when they released Tay, an AI chatbot designed for Twitter. The bot’s name was an acronym for the phrase “thinking about you.” It was designed to mimic the speech patterns of a 19-year old woman from America and programmed to learn from its interactions on Twitter. Internet trolls turned it into a racist monster in less than a day. Microsoft had to pull the plug on the project and shut Tay down after just 16 hours.

In another more recent instance, the app Replika allows users to create AI chatbots that they can interact with. You can have a virtual friend in your pocket with a free account. With a paid subscription, you have the option to have romantic or even sexual relationships with these virtual individuals. As would seem to be the trend with modern humans and their virtual companions, many people use this as an excuse to create and then abuse their virtual partners. While Replika doesn’t learn from these interactions the same way Tay was, the trend toward taking AI systems and turning them into something horrible doesn’t speak well of the human race as a whole.

Unsupervised learning is not advisable if chatbots interact with the general public. We want these bots to create a positive experience, and if they’re influenced by the worst that the internet has to offer, that isn’t possible. 

Could AI Be a Threat?

The idea of a rogue AI has fueled fears and inspired science fiction creators since the late 1800s in various forms. The idea of humans creating something that surpasses them and then turns on them is something that we’ve been afraid of for a very long time. Even tech giants like Elon Musk have repeatedly argued against the use of AI because of its potential risks. With the growing number of AI chatbots and other applications for artificial intelligence, could this technology evolve to become a threat in the future?

It’s too early to cry wolf and start shutting down all current and future AI projects. At the moment, AI doesn’t present a real threat because it lacks one key ingredient: sentience. Everything we currently think of as artificial intelligence is essentially a glorified machine learning program. Humans, maintained by humans, program them, and if necessary — as in the case of Tay — shut down by humans for reprogramming or destruction. As advanced as they are, these AI systems couldn’t pass the Turing test. 

If that changes and artificial intelligence gains a form of sentience, then it could become a threat to human existence. Nearly everything in the modern world is networked so that a malicious AI could do some severe damage before we manage to take it offline. A simple hack, facilitated by human hackers, took the Colonial Pipeline offline for days in 2021, throwing the entire east coast into a panic as they hunted for fuel. Imagine the kind of damage an AI could do in that same situation, especially if it were trying to hurt someone. 

What Does The Future of AI Chatbots Look Like?

Creating the smartest AI chat bots means creating a valuable tool for companies trying to keep up with a growing demand for customer service and support. When used correctly, they are invaluable. When abused, they stop being functional. While the looming threat of a war with our robot overlords might be science fiction, going out of our way to mistreat AI systems just makes the human race look bad.