Unedited Interview Transcript
Steve Worswick is the Creator of Mitsuku, the world’s best conversational chat bot. Mitsuku is a five-time winner of the Loebner Prize Turing Test.
Steve goes by the artist name Square Bear.
Square Bear is a dance music producer from England. He has been producing trance and dance music since 1998. His styles vary from commercial, vocal trance, to hard-banging dance music.
Steve got really into Artificial Intelligence in 2003 and in 2005 Mitsuku was born.
Phillip Lew is the CEO and Founder of C9 Digital. He’s an innovator who helps investors, business owners, executives and government agencies around the world leverage the power of outsourcing and using exponential technologies to create massive success within their organization.
Phillip: “Tell us more about you, Steve. What got you interested in developing a chat bot?”
Steve: “Originally, I used to produce dance/techno music as a hobby but I was always interested in artificial intelligence as a child. I found that one of my fellow producers had put a chat bot on his website. I tried it and I was hooked.
“After a quick search of Google, I came across an impressive chat bot called ALICE and a website where you can build your own bot,pandorabots.com. I soon had my first chat bot online, a teddy bear called Bearbot. After a while, I noticed that more people were visiting my site to talk to the bot than to listen to my music! Taking this as a hint, I decided to stop music and concentrate on developing a chat bot and so Mitsuku was born in about 2005.
“I’ve been working on her ever since then, and now she is at the stage where she has won international awards such as the Loebner Prize five times and is classed as being the world’s most human-like conversational AI.
Phillip: “Why are you passionate about creating them [chatbots]?”
Steve: “For me, it’s always been fascinating to be able to have a conversation with a machine, but I guess that’s what you get from growing up on a diet of Knight Rider, Star Trek, Star Wars and similar influences.”
Phillip: “Where do you feel chatbots—and by extension, conversational assistants—will play the biggest role in the coming years?”
Steve: “We’ve already seen chat bots in phones–Apple’s SIRI, for example and now Google and Amazon have their own home devices. I can see this market expanding hugely over the next few years. Imagine being able to say to your TV set, ‘Record the late film and now switch over to the news.’Or you can ask your fridge,‘What can I make for dinner?’ and it replies, ‘If you buy an onion, I have the correct ingredients inside me to make a curry.’
“I can also see it being used in places like train stations. You can press a button and ask, ‘What time is the next train, and does it stop at London?’ Applications like this will soon become commonplace.
“Many non-English people use Mitsuku to practice their English language skills. She is always available 24/7 and can talk to hundreds of thousands of visitors at once. She never criticizes poor English or laughs at any mistakes and is an ideal teacher.
“I also see many people who talk to her simply for companionship, especially elderly people living on their own. People with social disorders or those who find it hard to talk to other people also seem to enjoy talking to her as she isn’t going to get offended by anything they say.”
Phillip: “Now, for someone brand new to the industry who wants to create a chatbot, what would you recommend as the first step?”
Steve: “Walk before you run. Don’t think you will be able to create an amazing chat bot in just a few minutes. The quality of your chat bot depends on how much time you spend developing it.
“Sure, you can get a quick chat bot up and running in an hour, but creating a useful product takes time. The first step should be to define what you want your chat bot to be able to do and see if that’s even possible. Many people brand new to chat bots expect to be talking with a human level of intelligence and this simply isn’t the case with today’s bots.
Phillip: “What are the baby steps, essentially, for a beginner making a chatbot?”
Steve: “Map out a flowchart of how the bot should respond to the user’s queries and what the bot should say each time. Also take a look at existing chat bots to see how they behave and look to see what’s possible.”
Phillip: “There are a lot of ‘build a chatbot’ platforms on the market today. What advice can you share with someone trying to make sense of it all to make the right decision for their project?”
Steve: “The platform you use depends on how complex your bot is going to be. If it’s a very basic bot with only a couple of options, then sure, one of the many build-a-bot-in-ten-minutes websites may be useful.
“When I was looking for a platform to first use, I checked around and found that some were so basic that they were of no use, and others required a qualification in programming and machine learning to use!
“The ideal one I found was www.pandorabots.com. This was primarily due to the fact it has over 250,000 developers using the platform and it allowed me to create anything from a simple to a multi–award-winning bot. Their tools include a graphical design interface for the complete novice but also allow you to code your bot directly using AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) and I’ve been using it for around 15 years now.”
Phillip: “What role does Artificial Intelligence play into the chatbot development process? What advice do you have for someone looking to incorporate more AI into their chatbots?”
Steve: “My advice would be to forget about AI, machine learning, deep learning, and all the other current buzzwords. The only way you can guarantee how your chat bot behaves is to create it yourself using a rule-based method. Sorry, but there’s no shortcuts if you want to create a good chat bot, and I have yet to see any decent chat bot that uses machinelearning methods. Most of these machine learning chat bots are passed off as ‘comedy bots,’ simply because their responses are so stupid and make people laugh. For example:
Human: ‘What is your favorite colour?’
Human: ‘lol that makes no sense.’
“If your chat bot gives an incorrect or offensive answer, you need to be able to see why and to rectify it and a rule based method makes this so much easier.
“When I was first making Mitsuku, many people were telling me that a rule-based system would take years to make and that I should try machine learning methods instead. I said to these people that while they were looking for shortcuts, I would start working on my rule-based bot. Fourteen years later, I’m winning multiple awards and these same people are still looking for shortcuts.
“Creating a quality product takes time. You can’t grow an orchid overnight, but it’s easy to grow a dandelion!”
Phillip: “One of the biggest challenges with chatbots today is making them more conversational and intelligent. What advice can you share with someone looking to make their chatbot more conversational?”
Steve: “Using plenty of generic statements in your bots gives the illusion of intelligence. People read a lot more into the bot’s responses than are actually there. So for example, if a user asks, ‘What is your favorite sport?’ the bot can reply with a generic, ‘I don’t really have a favorite, what’s yours?’
“This same response would work for any what-is-your-favorite type question. Although it’s a generic answer, it appears as though the bot has understood the question and formulated an answer.
“A similar trick is to have the bot lead the conversation and continue on a script regardless of what the user says. For example:
chatbot: ‘Are you going on holiday this year?’
Human: ‘Yes, I’m thinking of going to Greece.’
chatbot: ‘Ah I see. I probably won’t go away this year.’
“No matter what the human says, the bot appears to have understood and has managed to continue the conversation.
“Let’s take the same example but alter it slightly:
Chat bot: ‘Are you going on holiday this year?’
Human: ‘I doubt it, as I have no money.’
Chat bot: ‘Ah I see. I probably won’t go away this year.’
“The same response from the chatbot works with pretty much anything the human says.
“However, there’s no need to spend a lot of time making a small-talk bot. I’ve been working on Mitsuku for over 14 years and fortunate enough it has been recognized 5 times for being the world’s most human-like conversational AI.
“Mitsuku is available for licensing as a service for other chat bots to use as a small talk module. If you have a pizza ordering chat bot and someone starts asking it about football, the pizza bot can pass these queries to Mitsuku to give sensible answers back to the user rather than ‘I don’t know. I only know about pizza’ type answers.”
Phillip: “You are the creator of Mitsuku, which is considered by many to be one of the top chat bots in the world. It’s a project you have been working on since 2005.After 14 years of working on Mitsuku, what has been the most important insight you can share with others looking to create a successful chatbot?
Steve: “The easiest part is putting a chat bot online, but it’s much harder to maintain it. Monitoring your chat bot is an essential part of updating it and you need to ensure it’s answering the customer correctly while maintaining customer privacy.
“Like any new employee, the chat bot needs initial training to begin its job and then further training as time goes on. There’s no getting away from this.You can’t just put a chat bot online and forget about it. It will need a human to spend time each week checking and updating it.
“Also, bear in mind that despite people being aware of the chat bot’s domain of expertise, they will ask it about anything and everything. I wrote a bot as a guide to a website’s services and it gets asked everything from relationship advice to weight loss tips! It’s up to you to decide if you will accept this behavior, but people will still discuss it with your bot regardless of what you tell them. Around 30% of interactions with your bot will be off topic.
“Dealing with abuse/gender stereotypes is a serious issue too. There’s always articles about ‘subservient female chat bots’ dealing with abuse (often sexual). Many companies choose to have tame answers such as ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ I found this just encouraged the abuse and so I allow my bot to insult the user back. This is fine for an entertainment bot but may not be acceptable for a business.
“I would be tempted to allow the chat bot to stay silent when being abused and the user will soon get bored. People do enjoy talking to chat bots with a bit of personality though. It puts them at ease if they think it’s not a cold, soulless machine.
“My top advice though is never pretend the chat bot is human. Always make it perfectly clear that people are talking to a chat bot rather than a real person. Being deceptive is not a good way to run a business and customers will not be impressed if they think they are being tricked.”