Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

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.

Chatbots are all around you, and they’re only going to get smarter. Although you’re most likely to see them in customer-service areas, journalists have been experimenting with them as well…

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.

 

16 Responses to Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

  1. omvanhorn says:

    I haven’t really thought much about the existence of chatbots and artificial intelligence until this semester. I realize that I’ve always been around them, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much they are changing and how much of an impact they can have on today’s online climate. Chatbots have been around for a good amount of time, but they are undoubtedly getting more intelligent, which causes some concern among users because nobody wants the computer chatbot to outsmart them–even though it’s completely possible. I think that chatbots can be really helpful for consumers of journalism when they visit news sites like the New York Times or ESPN. A chatbot would be helpful on these sites because they could help guide the user where they want to go and help them find the story they’re looking for immediately instead of taking the time to search the site first.

    The chatbot that I had in mind actually connects to the example I mentioned above. I would be interested to see a chatbot on sports sites like ESPN or Bleacher Report. Fans who visit these sites can use the chatbot to receive score updates and learn breaking news about their favorite teams by asking the bot. The chatbot could become users’ personal sports information machine. Questions for the bot could range from “What was the score of the Red Sox game last night?” to “Will Le’Veon Bell come back to the Steelers?” The only issue with this would be if people ask the chatbot for specific information regarding specific players because the bot’s knowledge database would have to be extensive and constantly updated. This may be harder than expected for the bot to answer.

  2. katieforcade says:

    Chatbots have really come to life recently, and I can’t say I see them going away anytime soon. I occasionally use Siri on my phone. This summer, while interning for a TV station, I was out shadowing a reporter on a story where an older woman with deteriorating health used chatbots in her home. Her son was able to engineer things like Amazon’s Alexa to respond to when she wanted the door to open for her or if she needed some kind of appointment set up. It was a really cool concept, and it kept this woman comfortable and in her home instead of in a facility as she gets older. I mention this because that was the first time I really saw how important these chatbots could be because they have a lot of potential.

    For journalistic purposes, I really think chatbots could help with up-to-date news. People could use these bots to check up on news. We mentioned that apps like Snapchat are working to provide really up-to-date news in short little blurbs for younger generations. I think a chatbot could work really well in doing that. Asking the chatbot about specifics, like national news would be a little tricky, but I definitely am not doubting the ability for technology to advance on to become very specific and more informative than we as humans can be. You could also use a chatbot for sports updates. I think it would do a phenomenal job in the sports area, because if you’re in the middle of a class, a family function, or something for work, you can ask “what’s the Mountaineers score right now?” and the chatbot would give you the score just like that.

  3. Megan Irwin says:

    This past summer I worked for an automotive group. I would frequently visit the websites for each dealership to make sure the ‘Meet Our Staff’ pages were up to date. Each site had a chat box powdered by, ‘ActiveGage.’ It is a way to communicate with customers and generate leads. In the article, “10 Fascinating Facts About Chatbots,” we learn that half of consumers want interactions via chat. Consumers can even turn to social media to discuss problems or complications that they’ve had with a brand. But with a chatbot, your questions and information isn’t public. It’s a personal chat with a bot.

    A chatbot that would pertain to my blog would be a chatbot that could answer questions about makeup and diversity. I think it would be helpful to have chatbots on different makeup brands websites. The chatbot could ask the consumer about their shade range as well as what type of product they are looking for when they first get on the website. This isn’t just a bot to find a lipstick, but a chatbot that knows the specific shade names, shade numbers, and shade ranges. A consumer that knows about makeup might ask questions like, how pigmented is the shade and how long does it last? Questions I wouldn’t expect include asking the chatbot, would this shade look good on me? The chatbot might be able to answer which skin tone the shade works best on, but the consumer would probably need to go into a store to find specific answers.

  4. Dan Walsh says:

    The only chatbots I’ve ever thought about have obviously been Siri. But they are an incredibly interesting newer form of technology that I think a lot of people will start using them more frequently. My only experience using chatbots would be using my Siri and my mom’s Google home. I really enjoy the Google home because the AI system is advanced and very easy to use. We always used it to play music and update us about the weather that day. It was really handy for hands-free work because if we were cooking we could just ask it without having to use our hands. These are the only real functions I am familiar with though because I’m not incredibly tech savy.

    I think a great use for chatbots would be when we are driving and don’t want to get distracted from that. For example if you were driving your phone could just update you with news from your favorite sources if it was breaking or if you marked it as important. The chatbot could be used to update a driver on sport scores, weather, breaking news or anything that said driver would add to his “watch list” or something along those lines. I think this would be a great idea for journalistic purposes because more and more people spend time in their cars and people are getting more conscious about using their phone while driving. Or even if you are not driving it would be a smart device. People are constantly doing activities where it isn’t safe, right, or important to constantly be checking our phones so these chatbots could skip that process and instead rely the message and news we want right to our years for easier access.

  5. teadinapoli says:

    I have been familiar with chatbots for awhile now. A lot of the sites I like to use to shop for clothing will have chatbots you can talk to about any questions you have. It is like having an shop associate but online. I also know about Cleverbot because my friends and I would use it when we were younger. I don’t have an Alexa or anything like that but I love seeing how technology is constantly improving and making things with artificial intelligence. chatbots just make things a lot easier and faster. When you want to know the weather you can just say “hey siri, what is the weather?” without having to type or touch anything on your device. You’re not going to expect the same answers back as you would with something more technical like an Alexa or Google Plus, but siri provides you with the simple basics.

    From a journalistic stance, I thin having a chatbot for a blog could be cool. You could ask the bot to direct you to a certain post or ask for the links used. Things you can receive back from the bot are the exact article links you asked for. You could even ask the chatbot when was the last post posted and he bot would answer. By having this, you are bringing more interaction to your site and making it faster/easier for readers. This wouldn’t be a super technical bot, you could only ask up to 6 questions but it would still be a step forward with making your blog more interactive for your readers. This one thing could be the thing that really sets you apart from other blogs.

  6. Patrick Kotnik says:

    I’m not a regular user of chatbots, but that may change with how advanced and more important they’re becoming. The only chatbot I will use sometimes is Siri and that is only to check the score of certain games.

    Chatbots are becoming a valuable tool in journalism in a variety of ways. These can help you collect information about your readers and what they’re interested in. Since the only chatbot I use involves checking the score in games with Siri, I’d like to see sports apps such as ESPN, FOX Sports and Bleacher Report to install chatbots. These apps are already capable of sending you alerts about whatever teams or sports you want, but what could be even more helpful to sports fans is if they could ask the bot questions about a team, player, game or even a certain statistic. This would also be a valuable tool for sports journalists when it comes to researching specific information. In an era where sports stories can be copied very easily, a sports chatbot would be helpful in finding rare statistics or information about a player that other reporters or fans may not be aware of.

    Although these chatbots are getting smarter, there’s still room for improvement as far as accuracy goes and being more complex.

  7. ahost97 says:

    Learning what chat bots are and how they operate is key to advancing this technology. This new tech is very innovative and can help us journalist or it can help the elderly remember from certain things if they are suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer’s. But with a great technology comes great responsibility and also great security and privacy threats. Learning from my Law and Ethics class. Is chat bots like Alexia,Bixby, and Siri listening to more than what they should. If so what privacy laws are being impeach upon and how can the government stop what these tech giants such as Google and Amazon are doing.
    But if us journalist us this new tech ethically and responsibly it will help us connect more with our audience and make us more successful and advancing our careers. A chat bot helps us realize the engagement level of our audience and what they really want to here about. So like any good journalist we adapt and change to what our readers want. I am looking forward to learning about chat bots and adding a new skill for my journalism career.

  8. I recently took a class that was all about artificial intelligence and I learned a lot about chatbots, but that was the first time I ever really thought about them. While they are very helpful for other industries, especially the medical industry, chatbots could potentially help journalists by helping get information from people. Instead of having people call in for news tips or even leaving comments on their Facebook page/website, having a chatbot on the website for people would get rid of journalists having to go through and read all of the comments. It could be a way for journalists to save time and work more on other things they have to get done.

    From a journalists prospective, I think having a chat bot that could be used almost like a fact checker would be beneficial. You could ask whether certain information is true or false, or could even ask where the information came from. It might get tricky to give specific answers for this, but it could answer by providing other sources that wrote about the topic. I feel like with this, people could potentially ask some inappropriate questions though to fact check it, but I think that would potentially happen with anything. I think having a chat bot that could help with fact checking could save a lot of time for people, especially journalists.

  9. ericaryoung says:

    I had not previously given much thought to chatbots-I didn’t even really realize that Siri qualified as a chatbot. But I do see how they can be both fun and informative. I also had not thought of using chatbots for things like customer service tasks. This actually seems like a great idea that can be helpful to people. It was especially shocking to me that even hospitals have used them. I personally never viewed chatbots as being very accurate, so I was surprised to learn just how advanced they can be. Journalists could certainly use chatbots to keep the people up to date on facts and data that is coming in. They would help information get out faster and keep people informed better.

  10. ABlogByBrie says:

    The world of chatbots are so up and coming. Every day we are learning and advancing our abilities in the realm of the chatbot. The idea that chatbots can be used to aid those with Dementia in navigating their changing world. Additionally, we don’t see as many chatbots that are as advanced as Siri, Alexa, or Google, but we see a number of chatbots that are specific to one area of importance (the hurricane bot, Duolingo for language), and are very useful for users.

    In terms of journalism, they’ll likely make significant headway in the next ten years. As I’ve said many times, journalism is always looking for new ways to reach new viewers and demographics, what is popular for one may not be for another (i.e. Snapchat for youngers readers and Facebook for 40-somethings). With chatbots, journalism can reach a number of people in new and exciting ways.
    For instance, you could create a bot specific to pop culture: “What’s new with Selena Gomez?” and the bot would search for the most recent stories on Selena Gomez and read them back. Having the ability to create these chatbots can also be an especially attractive skill to employers, as it is still up and coming and it is seen as more difficult than it likely is. If an employer sees that you’re capable of doing this, they’ll likely give you a second look.

  11. I was taught that chatbots have always been around this semester and even though I use them daily, I never knew what they were called. I use Siri almost everyday and Alexa to check the weather each morning. I also ask Siri to answer me questions about the news that I heard from the day with some key words so it knows what to look up. This has a lot to do with journalism and staying timely with current events. When applying some of the news to the topics I write about, it is easy to navigate through information with the help of a chatbot.

    I believe a good idea for a chatbot would be for traveling. Whether it be deciding which was more efficient and cheaper to pick a plane or a car, how long it would take to get there, etc. The chatbot would be able to also make reservations and decide on car rentals by looking through other’s reviews and comparing prices. This depends on who is also shopping for the travel package. I would expect prices, reviews, travel times, hotel packages, landmarks to visit, etc. I would take them to links that compare and to also book, I would show pictures of ideas of what to expect, and step by step instructions of how to book or anything they might need. I would not expect would be refunds for bad weather, even though that would pretty cool, it is not realistic, or if the hotels have bedding. Random things like that would not be expected but who knows what goes through people’s heads.

  12. AJ Barnes says:

    Chatbots are not something I think about everyday, but they are becoming more prevalent. Everyone that has an iPhone has Siri, and ads for Alexa are popping up, introducing the world to state of the art chatbots. Despite chatbots becoming more common in everyday life, they really have a ways to go. In my opinion, there are more annoying and unnecessary ones than there are useful chatbots, and even the good ones have trouble sometimes (like when you say ‘are you serious?’ and Siri activates). You can also run into problems when they try to overload you with information and spam via chatbots on messenger app and emails.

    Chatbots should not be downplayed though, because they give journalists the opportunity to shift through (or have others shift through) information quickly. They can help journalists sort through news stories to get to the important events to report on, and they can help others to view the news stories they are interested in. Chatbots are a shortcut to the news; you can bypass anything you don’t want, or care, to see and get right to what you were looking for. They could be extremely useful in situations where you might check the score of a sports game, or get updates on the weather/natural disaster.

    If I was to use a chatbot for my blog, I think that I could use it to describe what is going on on campus. A few questions like “what is going on on campus right now?,” “updates on greek life,” or “how is the university handling ___ situation?” could really lead into one or more of my blog post. I could include a chatbot that would show you all the Greek Sororities and Fraternities that are still in good standing and what they are doing. There are a lot of possibilities for a chatbot with WVU life, but it would need to be constantly updated in order to have relevant information.

  13. Chatbots are quite interesting when you think about them. I have actually been using them without even realizing. On clothing websites that I shop from, they have a chatbot that allows you to talk to “a worker” and they can help you find something on the site or ask questions. There’s also Siri and Alexa and things of those sorts. While I do not frequently use those applications, my dad does. Since he has it connected in his car and he travels a lot, he uses Siri often.

    In the article, “10 Fascinating Facts About Chatbots” it was not surprising to see that most customers would rather have interactions through chat instead of in person or over the phone. It sure is quicker than waiting on the phone for someone to help you.

    For journalism, chatbots can become extremely helpful. When you’re not sitting looking for information, there’s constantly news breaking. Being on the go, you might need to find things right away. For example, elections are coming up so you could ask “What are the current standings?” and get up to date information. Like almost everyone has said, this would be extremely helpful for sports. You can’t always watch every single game that’s on, so you can ask “What’s the score of the West Virginia game?” or “What are the current NFC East standings?” Even having chatbots on personal blogs can help readers get to a certain post quickly. Having these chatbots on different websites would be helpful to journalists and readers because it would get their information immediately.

  14. I use Google Assistant every day. I use the bot every day to set alarms, keep tabs on the weather, answer lingering questions, and play music. Chatbots are becoming a normal tool in the American lifestyle and serve as one of the most intelligent tools average civilians can access. The “10 Fascinating Facts About Chatbots” article discussed why chatbots are becoming so prevalent in society, showing that people are becoming more acquainted with chatbot’s ease of use and efficiency when answering simple questions. Not only have they been marketed as personal assistants, but they also give a “humanity” to computers that hasn’t previously been provided. As the “Journalism Bots: A Quick History and Ideas for Use in Your Newsroom” article discussed, bots have the “ability to monitor specific sets of data around the clock without needing a break”. The introduction of bots has made journalist’s lives easier, as they can rely (mostly) on a bot to do the research into a specific topic. These bots also provide ways to monitor websites, interact with audiences, and automate processes. For a journalist, this can sometimes be as practical as having an intern, or even an editor, that is always assessing the work being done and providing useful information and tips.

    A chatbot would be especially great for researchers in my field of study, which is biology. The lab setting requires a ton of before-hand research, but on a regular occasion, you need a question answered while your gloves are covered in chemicals or need to remain sterile. This requires you to stop what you’re doing, take off your gloves, sit down at a computer, and print out the answer to your question. These questions range from “How do I make [this] solution?” to “What is the next step in the protocol?”. Semi-weird questions that frequently need to be answered in the lab are usually related to lab techniques, such as “How do I need to store this solution?” or “What time should [this reagent] be added?”. A hands-free chatbot that has a database of safety information, protocols and material lists for making solutions would make lab quicker, more efficient, and less annoying. Side note: The bot could also be used by journalists that are focused on the latest scientific articles and data that has been released, and the chemical inventory would be great for normal people to get quick answers about how to respond to hazardous chemicals and poisons.

  15. Chatbots have become very prominent as of late with the huge popularity of devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. These chatbots make things a lot easier for people because they an do things like set schedules and tell you reminders, look things up on the internet and even order things online. Chatbots can play a role in journalism by helping to find information.

    A chatbot I would create would be one that gave real time stat updates for teams or players. You could ask “How many passing yards does Jared Goff have right now” to which it would reply with the exact number at the time of asking. It would focus mainly on statistics but also give injury updates. You wouldnt expect non sports related questions to this chatbot.

  16. Chatbots are something that I didn’t even realized I encountered so often until recently. I online shop often, and almost every site has a chatbot there to help you if you have any questions. They’re surprisingly helpful and can usually help you with what you need without having to send you to a real-life representative.
    When it comes to chatbots and journalism, I think they could be used and be helpful in a number of ways. For example, a chatbot could be used to fact-check something for a journalist so that they don’t have to stop what they are doing to fact-check. I also think it could be helpful on a website to help the reader navigate and figure out where to find what they are looking for.

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