Saying hello in Robot: inside Avaya's world-first social network for bots

Saying hello in Robot: inside Avaya's world-first social network for bots
Published: 15 June 2019 - 8:55 p.m.
By: Ben Mack
Image: Avaya

“Machines making machines. How perverse,” said C-3PO in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

That’s not quite what’s happening in this particular story – but we are talking about chatbots chatting with other chatbots. A “chatbot social network” or “chatbot social club?” You could call it that.

But whatever name you affix to it, it’s not the stuff of science fiction – at least not anymore.

Long story short: Avaya has created the world’s first social platform for chatbots – and even cooler, it was developed in Dubai.

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“What we’ve done is develop a platform,” says Ahmed Helmy, CTO for Avaya International.

“A challenge with any chatbot is, ‘how can you extend the skills and knowledge of your bot?’”

Of course, you can – but it often requires an entire research and development team to do so, not to mention a huge amount of time and money.

This solution means you don’t have to, as the chatbots can “talk” to each other and essentially “teach” themselves.

“We can use this to extend capabilities,” says Helmy, adding customers that could benefit include public services, marketing companies and service providers.

The platform for chatbots was first demonstrated at the 2018 edition of GITEX in Dubai. Helmy says it’s “great” to have been able to develop it in the Middle East, and the United Arab Emirates specifically.

“The regulations [in the UAE] are very friendly for innovation.”

A 2018 global Avaya survey of 8,000 consumers found that 80% of people expect an immediate response from their banks, hospitals, hotels and even governments, highlighting the need for efficient and ‘always-on’ customer service.

“With automation, organisations can overcome their human resource limitations and meet these customer expectations by delivering seamless, intuitive and intelligent experiences across all touch points,” says Laurent Philonenko, senior vice president of innovation at Avaya.

“Bots are rapidly becoming one of the most powerful means to positively impact customer service, second only to face-to-face interaction.”

But a key shortcoming of enterprise chatbots is that they are usually domain-specific and can respond only to a relatively narrow set of dialogues. Hence the need, as Helmy says, to diversify what they can do in order to be able to help more people.

“What if we could enable chatbots from different domains and industries to collaborate and exchange information via a highly regulated platform, and find answers from other chatbots, not just humans? We could, in effect, securely link enterprises, significantly expanding the efficacy and expertise of any single bot thereby enabling organisations to deliver an exceptional level of customer service, reducing the need for human intervention and enabling deeper self-service, as well as reducing the need for supervised learning.”

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Ahmed Helmy, Avaya International CTO.
The platform allows registered chatbots to have a unique social profile and “friend” other member bots from different domains and industries – not unlike real humans connecting on a social network. The social platform also allows chatbots to rate each other, and store confidence metrics based on the quality of information received, and feedback from end customers – leading to constant improvements in each bot’s quality and speed of customer service.

Translation: the chatbots learn from each other.

Avaya envisages two scenarios for how customer and bot interactions will be handled in real time: either the original bot contacts a friended bot on the customer’s behalf and delivers the received answer, or the original bot connects the customer to a friended bot in the style of a conference call.

“This is a huge step forward in addressing the information and service bottlenecks of chatbot systems,” says Helmy.

“The social platform model also means that Avaya’s customers can increase the value of their chatbot solutions without having to engage in lengthy and costly data curation or warehousing projects.”

Helmy also credits the platform’s creation to a diverse team of developers and programmers, including women who played a key role.

“When you develop this type of solution, you need people from diverse backgrounds.”

So… what’s next? Helmy says the platform is constantly improving – just like the bots it’s designed for.

“The more we test, the more benefits we’ll discover.”

As C-3PO might say, “wonderful!”

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