This week (or two), you’re going to build some bots! Chatbots – or “conversational agents” if you’re fancy – are a fairly new entry (with apologies to Eliza) into our mass communication world. Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are chatbots: You speak to them, and they rely on rules or artificial intelligence (or both) to answer or perform a function.
Here’s a simple example: Cleverbot
A chatbot typically mimics human speech in a call-and-response way: If I say “Hello,” the bot might respond “Hi there!” That’s not too exciting, but bots are rarely so simple. More likely, the bot will ask what I’m looking for, shopping for, or otherwise would like to know. The Loebner Prize is a contest that seeks bots that can best approximate human interaction – as these transcripts show, they’ve still got a way to go.
Do people actually like chatbots? Yes, actually! They’ve certainly got their place, but the simulated human communication often goes over pretty well. The health care profession has even been exploring using bots for personal care and assisting those suffering from dementia. The language learning app Duolingo also includes chatbots (currently offline for a fix) that will converse with you in the language of your choice.
Bots are great for daily functions like answering common questions or automating data-oriented tasks or for larger projects like the one above. They’re not hard to make, either – free platforms like Dexter (which we’ll use in class) let you create simple ones on your own.
For this week’s response, reflect on what you’ve learned about chatbots and where you might apply them in journalism. I’d also like you to come up with a specific application for a bot: Answering questions or interacting with audience for a specific subject. What kinds of questions would you expect? What kinds of answers would it give? What kinds of questions might you NOT expect (people are weird, after all)?
Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, October 14, as a comment to this post. Don’t worry about Briggs this week – the syllabus had us reading the Mobility chapter, but it’s not particularly relevant – so just focus on the questions above.