Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

Over our next few classes, 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:

+ I say “Hello”

– bot responds “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 certainly don’t work in every situation, 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. Language learning apps such Duolingo also have included chatbots 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 topic for a bot related to your personal or group blog. Think like you’re writing an explainer: What are some questions readers might have, and how might it respond? What kinds of questions might you NOT expect (people are weird, after all)?

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 18, as a comment to this post.

19 Responses to Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

  1. Chatbots are a great way for helping people answer common questions. They are used to interact like humans even though they are not, rather actually artificial intelligent software designed to perform a series of tasks. They can be seen as a virtual assistant. It is interesting that even hospitals are using these bots or “hosts” to do things such as book appointments, send patients reminders, and assist with billing and insurance needs. Major industries are using these insights to better their content and help their viewers/consumers.

    Certain questions that may come up for my group blog on Appalachian Art could be anything from what is Appalachia, what defines art, or what are some artists or places where you can buy this type of art? These type of questions help a reader better understand the overall theme to the blog. Being able to understand simple questions such as geographic location, who are the writers/contributors, etc. Responses could be the definition of Appalachia and the states it includes (Appalachia encompasses about 205,000 square miles of land, including all of West Virginia and parts of 12 other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.) When wondering who the writers of the group blog are the names could pop up or even a link to the about page with that information. Questions one might not expect are: What is a ‘holler’ in Appalachia? Why is Appalachia important? Or maybe what are important landmarks in the area? People actually have a lot of questions about this area, so I imagine so odd ones could present themselves.

  2. Chatbots are an extremely advanced form of technology that is tangible for the average person–which is what makes it so impressive. Having the power of artificial intelligence at our fingertips is helpful to practically anyone, from basic questions to advanced data research. It was really interesting to see how bots can play a part in campaigning, and the video showed how Facebook can break down demographics into usable evidence for journalists as well.

    For our group blog about arts in Appalachia, I think one of the biggest questions will be what makes art in Appalachia distinct from other regions of the world. People may be blind to the fact that, though we are based in West Virginia, the Appalachian region extends into 12 other states–and our stories may discuss different areas of Appalachia besides our home state. I think some other questions could be questions regarding the history of Appalachia, questions about different Appalachian artists and where they can be found, as well as questions about possible opportunities for artists to share their work. We may even have artists reading our page looking for ways to get their name out there.

    For my personal blog, I think one of the biggest things would be the search of specific musicians/bands. I think it would be beneficial to create a bot that could direct readers to a specific post based of the key words they say/search. For example, if a reader is interested in Pink Floyd, they can say “Pink Floyd”, and the bot will direct them to my article about Roger Waters–as well as any other articles that may relate in the future.

  3. Holly Fry says:

    I remember in middle school using the Cleverbot chatbot with my friends to try to get it to say funny things or reply to knock-knock jokes. I never thought of it being able to help a journalist, although the beginning of what I read from the gijn story, seems to be that soon we won’t need people writing stories anymore. If a chatbot were set up to create a story, it would already have the algorithms to have grammar and spelling checks. If one person set up a bot to create a blog, there wouldn’t even be a need for people in a newsroom. But these types of bots are probably further in the future, no matter how near.
    In the more scaled back sense of the chatbot, it could alert you to stories that your blog was about, finding the right things your reader would be interested in. Although if you find the right people to follow and actively search for it, it’s basically the same idea. I guess the whole idea seems a little foreign to me even after looking through some of these links. I guess in my own blog, I could set one up to alert me of a breaking story or what is trending for me to write a post about before it’s not popular again. for my blog topic, it could give me updates of students deaths on campuses around the country and even set up a map, like one of the Quakebot did.

  4. My friends and I used to talk to Cleverbot for hours when we were in middle school, at the time, I didn’t realize how important chatbots were for our technology world, and how journalist could use them. Today, I find chat bot to be extremely helpful with customer service. For example, apple and spotify are companies that have awesome chat bots that are always there for troubleshooting. I never realized how journalist use bots. After watching the video, it was interesting to learn how many more ads McCaskill used than Hawley. Bots were not something I expected to be used during campaigning, but I am not surprised that they are.

    For our group blog about going green in the Appalachian region, several questions could arise from readers. I feel like a common question, that is also very simple would be “How can I live a greener lifestyle?” Users could then find articles about ways they could cut back on habits to live a greener lifestyle.

  5. Cody Nespor says:

    I first heard about bots in journalism a few years ago when the AP announced that they were experimenting with bots writing baseball stories using boxscores (https://www.theverge.com/2016/7/4/12092768/ap-robot-journalists-automated-insights-minor-league-baseball). I think this is the exact kind of formulaic story that a bot could write as mentioned in the reading. Specifically talking about a baseball boxscore, it would be pretty simple for a bot to pull from the data what happened in the game and who did what and turn that information into some kind of short recap, much like the LA Times’s Quakebot. The problems, of course, come when either the bots malfunction, such as Quakebot reporting on a 100-year-old earthquake, or if there’s something in the data that goes deeper than just the number and requires some sort of human interpretation, Stephen Piscotty of the Oakland A’s hitting a home run in his first game after his mom passed away (https://www.mlb.com/news/stephen-piscotty-hits-emotional-home-run-c276820184) comes to my mind as something that a bot could not aptly write about. So I would think that bots aren’t ready to completely replace human journalists, at least in my lifetime thankfully.

    One of the biggest problems that esports faces is that there is no central authority for most of the games that are played professionally. For example, professional baseball has the MLB and even the MiLB to report on all of its players and teams. Specifically thinking about fighting games, there is nothing at all like this, so a lot of what happens with players and teams, outside of large tournaments, goes unreported except what those players and teams put out there themselves. A few people on Twitter, SirToasty (https://twitter.com/theSirToasty?lang=en) and Austin Nolte 9https://twitter.com/AustyLaVista) chief among them, try to report on much of what happens in Smash Bros outside of the major tournaments but there are too many players and too many local tournaments for them to get everything. My idea for a bot would be something like the AP’s minor league baseball bot, something that could look at the results of a game, or tournament, and generate a report about it. The main issues here would again be that this could only report on strictly what happened and not any of the human element or storylines. Another issue would be actually getting that information, there aren’t really nice boxscores like baseball has. The website smash.gg does a good job of publishing tournament results or it could do something like how local newspapers report high school sports scores and just have the results submitted by the coaches.

  6. lyndseymoran says:

    Personally, I’m familiar with using chatbots for online shopping. Whether if the online site sold clothing or technology, there was always a chatbot located at the bottom of the page. The chatbot would assist the customer in terms of site navigation, product knowledge, and online ordering details.

    For journalism purposes, attaching chatbot to an online article or post that is likely to receive high traffic/views, may be helpful for readers. The bot could answer questions regarding the post and keep the journalist’s and the company’s email inboxes free from simple questions or concerns.

    Our group blog focuses on the reputation/perception of WV and the WVU community. Some readers many have some questions regarding where the topics of the posts arise and the chatbot could answer those concerns.

    For my personal blog, I could program a bot to make it easier for readers to search certain topics I cover. For example, if the reader is interested in “small businesses in WV” or “fiscally responsible environmental policies”, the bot could locate where I have mentioned those topics in my posts.

  7. haileyspicer says:

    I have numerous apps on my iPhone that include chatbots! One in particular is my credit card app, it allows you to ask questions and the chat bot responds quickly and clearly. It is a great customer service tool, especially for my generation. I find myself constantly using it because it saves time and stress.

    I never really thought about how you could use chatbots in the world of journalism but the video opened my eyes to the multiple ways you can use chat bots.

    For my personal blog, I could incorporate chatbots on topics that people are highly interested in and they would be able to find related articles on the topic or ask it questions.

  8. Chatbots are a beneficial advancement in today’s society. They help out with tedious tasks and are used across various internet platforms. In particular, when I need assistance with my PNC Bank card, I can rely on a chatbot to answer my commonly asked questions over the PNC website. Also, another example is when I am online shopping and I am curious about the fit of a specific shoe. A chatbot will respond to me when it sees that I am looking at a certain shoe which leads me to making a purchase.

    For my personal blog which is about nightlife in Morgantown, I could incorporate a chatbot for commonly asked questions for a chatbot such as “Where exactly is Morgantown, WV?” or “On average, how many days a week do students go out at WVU?” The chatbot will respond to these questions quite easily because they are known facts across the internet and asked most often. I believe that chatbots can very much benefit the journalism world especially because most of our world is solely online every day. I think that some questions a chatbot might get asked on our blog could be about the different bars in downtown Morgantown, if boys or girls go out more, or how much are cover prices for the downtown bars.

  9. Patrick Downey says:

    Before reading this post I had no idea how helpful they can actually be. I remember I used to mess around with cleverbot back in the day and just ask it dumb questions without knowing how helpful it could be. I think that chatbots can be useful on pretty much any form of website. Since there is not an actual person there to help you navigate and work through the website, a chatbot could serve as that person. I think that a chatbot is kind of like a FAQ section of a website. All the questions asked in a FAQ could be implemented into the chatbot and you could get your answers that way. In regards to chatbots in journalism, I think that most effective use for them would be for questions. Let’s say the reader did not understand something written in a blog post. They could ask the chatbot and get their answer. I think it would be important to be able to log all the questions being asked so the writer knows what people are confused with the most.

    For my personal blog I think a chatbot would be useful in a story about the “worst upsets in march madness history”. A chatbot could serve as an alternative to hyperlinks. If someone wants to know more about a certain team or any other detail they could ask the bot. Instead of hyperlinking text to go into more detail, the bot would have the answer.

  10. adamjpayne says:

    I realized what chatbots are, but I never realized how frequently they appear in modern times. I remember using them to mess around with Cleverbot or Akinator in middle school, yet I never thought about the way they are often used on big shopping sites to direct questions with simple answers or to help learn languages by practicing conversation. With each new technological advance, it becomes less about entertainment and more about helping the consumer. Even Siri, Google Homes, and Alexa are an example of advanced chatbots, the only difference is it is auditory rather than just text. Using them for journalistic purposes, however, now that is something I have never thought of prior.

    I think the best bet for a journalist using chatbots was to answer more questions that a reader may have about a topic. In fact, I think a chatbot could make up the entire article, and the audience would have to ask questions to figure out the story, while I don’t know how logistically good that is- it is a possibility. For my personal blog, the best thought I had was that I could use it sort of as a “frequently asked questions” section about one of my topics. I plan on writing one about Lady Gaga in the near future so some question could be: Q- What is Lady Gaga’s real name? A- Stefani Germonatta
    Q- How many number one hits does she have? A- 4
    and so on. I think this would be a great way to flesh out a topic for as much information as possible so the reader doesn’t need to look anywhere else but my blog.

  11. Before this reading, I was similar with what chatbots were. After reading, I learned how frequently they are actually used. I can remember when I was younger and I used to mess around with chatbot by asking stupid questions, but now I use it to ask stupid questions I don’t know the answers to. I think it is interesting how much they are being used and how handy they actually are. I use them a lot for my banking, online and on the app because I can get answers quickly.

    I never thought of chatbots being used for journalism, but the longer I’m in this class, the more I realize we can use just about anything for journalism. I never thought about them being used for campaigning either, but it’s a cool way to go about campaigning. Using chatbots in the world of media would be an effective way to see what your readers are wanting to know, and allow the journalist to connect better to their audience.

    For my group blog about going green, I feel as if people will ask a lot of questions about living a more green lifestyle. I feel like by creating a chatbot for the group blog, we could answer questions that show statistics on living green and not living green. We could also create it to try and answer some questions about money when it comes to going green.

  12. Chatbots are super efficient and I think in certain scenarios are even better than actual people. It’s great for things like customer service, or as a journalist, they can make your audience’s life easier. In my personal blog, I think a chatbot would achieve that by just helping my readers find what they’re looking for. Maybe a bot that takes key word searches and directs them to posts that involve that. Being able to search by genre or artist would be really beneficial to the reader.

    For my group blog, I think chatbots could be used in a similar way. Basically just to help narrow the content down to what the reader is interested in. Especially since with a group blog, naturally there’s more work getting produced more often. So having something that sifts through it all for you could be really helpful.

  13. deanmarrazzo says:

    Chat bots have been around for a decent amount of time now. I can remember using them on websites as far back as 12 years old. Most of these bots were on sites that I was shopping on. I think this is a fairly common platform people have seen chat bots on. Today these chat bots are far more advanced. The introduction of Siri and Alexa have brought this technology and the assistance it provides into daily life. I think chat bots can be used in journalism to help people move through a website. It can be hard to find articles if there is an intensive library to choose from.

    I think for my group blog, Arts in Appalachia, some commonly asked question would be about Appalachia in general. Where exactly is Appalachia. What is it? Isn’t it mountains? Before coming to WVU I personally didn’t know which states made of Appalachia or what exactly it was. I knew the general area and that it was a mountain range but not what it covered.

    My personal blog could draw questions regarding frequency of coverage of different sports. Although I do not have a specific schedule for posting about different sports; I think this would be a frequently asked question.

  14. shananelson says:

    The mention of Cleverbot immediately brought back memories of playing with my friends on it back in middle school. I’ve never really actively thought about chatbots until now honestly, but upon thinking about it, I realized that I’ve actually used them quite a few times since then on websites when needing customer service while online shopping.

    I’ve never really thought about applying chatbots to journalism, but upon researching, I’ve learned how valuable they can be to newsrooms. For example, the Arizona Daily Star used a chatbot in their newsroom while doing coverage of the 2016 election called Elexi which was , “a Facebook Messenger bot programmed to answer questions about candidates and deliver results on election night” (Heckman). https://www.cjr.org/innovations/chatbots.php

    In terms of using chatbots for my group blog, Almost Green, Almost Heaven, I feel like many readers will have the question of “How can I help?” when it comes to issues like climate change and helping the environment. It could respond with simple, attainable solutions such as switching to LED lightbulbs, carpooling, or switching to a more plant based diet.

  15. I was aware of chatbots but I didn’t know they were called chatbots. I thought they were just robots that could speak but it’s really more of an algorithm. I also didn’t realize how long they have been around.

    In journalism I could use it to help gather information for my reporting, writing or whatever it may be. They can gather the information faster than we can.

    I feel like I could use a chatbot to gather information of Lyft Vs Uber. It could help get information through surveys, statistics etc. I think it would be cool to see. I think people would wonder if the information is accurate. I’d have the same question too.

  16. Chat bots are something I see very often when online shopping and i never really knew what they were. When reading the post on chat bots I liked the part where it said chat bots are used a lot in companies for customer service I feel like that is the direction most companies are heading on if they are not there already.

    In journalism this would be useful to ask the reader if they have any other questions or even refer them to other posts to read to better their understanding on what they are reading.

    As my personal blog is about nightlife in Morgantown, West Virginia, common questions that I could incorporate a chatbot for questions commonly used are “what are the best nights to go out in Morgantown, West Virginia?” or “what are the most popular bars in Morgantown, West Virginia?” I believe that these questions are great for a chatbot because these are commonly asked questions, especially for people who are not familiar with the nightlife in Morgantown. Chatbots are very useful as they are very easy to access, and they make life much easier for people who are looking for answers of questions commonly asked. In todays world, the internet is used for so many things, and chatbots have made using the internet even easier. Good questions that a chatbot could answer are questions about the cover prices of different bars, or which bars have the best drink specials. Questions like these can help people in many ways to accommodate their needs while either visiting Morgantown, or for people who live in Morgantown to make their decisions of their nightlife plans much easier.

  17. I haven’t learned much about chatbots in any previous classes, but I have encountered them in my daily life quite a bit, especially in more recent times. Whether it’s online shopping or the first thing to pop up when I enter a customer support website, they seem to be on basically every website.

    Personally, I think they’re a great invention as they automated yet another job that wasn’t very efficient. Instead of waiting on hold during a customer service call for hours, you can (hopefully) solve your issue within minutes after messaging with a computer system. I think they’re a great resource for journalists and news outlets as it allows for readers to potentially receive more information on the subject they were already reading about.

    For my group blog, I’d imagine the chatbot would be able to answer simple questions about our current legislations in place regarding climate change, be able to direct readers to help links and additional resources, and similar tasks.

  18. briannaherscher says:

    Chat Bots are a great way to communicate and interact with your audience online because it makes them feel more included which then leads to more interest in whatever the bots are associated with. I feel chat bots can be especially helpful when writing an article that calls for different viewpoints on a topic and the chat bots can either help them learn more about each viewpoint or gage which viewpoints were the most interesting or caused the most curiosity out of their readers. I’m curious as to how we would be able to come up with automated responses for the chat bots to reply to in every situation since they would be predetermined responses.

  19. […] be designing basic chatbots in the next few weeks. You learned about these in this week’s readings, so you know you’ve already interacted with a chatbot on your phone, in your home, and probably […]

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