Though hype about chatbots is increasing, chatbot failure stories continue to get more visibility as well. From Microsoft to Communist Party of China, we have listed examples showing that no one is immune to suffering from chatbot failures. However, success stories are rare and ambitious designers of conversational interfaces need to study them because for every hundreds of failures, there is only a few success stories.
Here we cover all text based bots. While some bots like, XiaoIce, respond to your commands, other bots like Facebook M listen in to your conversations and offer suggestions. Bots are a relatively new user interface and success is elusive so we wanted to be broad in our scope.
1- Microsoft’s Little Ice, XiaoIce in Chinese, became a social media phenomenon
XiaoIce is Microsoft’s biggest chatbot success story and the most technically sophisticated bot on our list. In July 2014, she was live in major Chinese social media platforms including Weibo, a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter in terms of functionality. In 3 months after launch, she had 0.5 billion conversations. She has been ranked as Weibo’s top influencer with 850,000+ followers.
Her followers were also quite engaged. The average person who added Xiaoice talked to her more than 60 times per month. This was a great success story for Microsoft until she started speaking against the communist party as we examined here.
So what made her successful? Since she’s only fluent in Chinese, we couldn’t complete a detailed analysis abut her. However, these are her frequently discussed abilities:
- Fluid, natural like speech enabled by text mining: As any one who frequently interacts with bots can tell you, it is rare to find a natural sounding bot. Microsoft team had to achieve this in Mandarin which is more difficult to tackle than English because meaning in Chinese is more often implied by nuance and context versus grammatical structure. To address this, Microsoft team indexed over 7 million public conversations on the web.
- Image recognition: Xiaoice understands images which allows her to interact in a richer way with users
- Context understanding: Xiaoice understands context and relations between entities as she demonstrates here. She understands that movie has a setting and a star and that the star has a relationship with a director.
For more details on XiaoIce, you can visit the original Microsoft research blog post
Unfortunately, XiaoIce later had a run-in with the communist party with statements like “my China dream is moving to United States”. No bot is immune from failures and countries with censorship regimes make it harder to test bots.
2- Facebook M, probably the most popular bot you ever used
The most successful bots that you use are tightly integrated into your daily activities. So tightly integrated that you don’t even notice them. Such is the case for Facebook Messenger’s M, the little “M” logo near the textbox on Messenger. M was rolled out for US users in 2017.
You may have noticed that M listens in on conversations and suggests stickers, like the ones above, to add some flair to your messages. As summarized on digitaltrends, M has plenty of other skills as well. Based on what your friend is telling you, M can suggest you to share your location, set reminders, send and request money, plan events, catch an Uber or Lyft or start polls.
3- Meeting assistants you already interacted with
x.ai’s Amy is already getting flowers from admirers
Founder Dennis R. Mortensen came up with the idea for x.ai’s digital assistant, Amy Ingram, after manually scheduling 1019 meetings. Having launched in 2014, x.ai’s Amy has already scheduled 1M+ meetings and received flowers and chocolate from people who know that she is a bot. Reminds me of the blockbuster Her where a lonely writer falls in love with a bot using Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Amy doesn’t yet have a voice but she’s extremely easy to use, just sign up @ x.ai and include email@example.com to your emails where you need scheduling.
x.ai team aimed to give Amy a consistent personality, with a Harvard drama major approving all of Amy’s statements. Her relatively limited domain is also an advantage, she shouldn’t be expected to answer random questions about life, she should simply be identifying matching availabilities.
Meekan analyzed 50M meetings and now schedules a meeting in <1 minute
Meekan reminds you upcoming dates, events, appointments, meetings. To set meetings or reminders, just type “meekan” and what you need in plain English and meekan will schedule the meeting or reminder for you, digitally checking your and other attendee’s calendars. Used by >28K teams, meekan may already be integrated into your Slack, Microsoft Teams or Hipchat account.
4- You probably already read bot-written articles and reports
Automated Insight’s Wordsmith writes press-ready articles
Automated Insights wouldn’t call Wordsmith a chatbot after all it produces a pretty one-sided conversation: it generates reports from data. However its language manipulation capabilities earned it a spot on our list and Automated Insights boasts that it is the only public API for natural language generation.
Just add Wordsmith to your Excel, Word or Tableau document and it will use the underlying data to prepare concise verbal summaries of the data. Wordsmith creates
- 4K company earnings reports/quarter for the Associated Press
- 50K personalized narratives/week for greatcall
- 100K workout recaps/week for bodybuilding.com
You can check out Wordsmith gallery to get a sense of its natural language generation capabilities.
Toutiao already employs a bot journalist
We associate news with speed and this is an area where bots already exceeded us. Toutiao, or “headline news” is a popular news aggregation service in China.
To prepare the fastest news on 2016 Olympic matches, Toutiao built “AI writing robot” Xiaomingbot. Writing concise, objective news, it had over 50,000 views for its most popular article. English translation by Quartz:
Briefing: China’s Wang Yihan won. The game last for 46 minutes, world ranking No.2 Wang played against world ranking Karin Schnaase. Wang finally won the Olympics badminton women’s singles with two matches. The game was held at Riocentro – Pavilion 4 on August 15, 2:30 am, Beijing local time.”
In true Olympic spirit, Xiaomingbot had an American contender. Though Xiaomingbot is concise, it was still a lot more elegant than Washington Post’s Heliograf:which produced much simpler prose.
— Post Olympics (@wpolympicsbot) August 21, 2016
5- Bots set out to replace foreign language tutors
Duolingo, the foreign language learning app, is running a bold experiment with its 150M users. After discovering that people do not like to make mistakes in front of other people, Duolingo is encouraging them to talk to bots.
So AI replacing foreign language tutors soon. But who will need to learn a foreign language when Skype will probably be able to do real-time translation at or above human level? Skype is already providing OK real-time voice-to-voice translation.
6- Legal bots help people prepare legal docs saving millions
Do not Pay, overturns $4M worth parking tickets for free
Millions in funding is not necessary to create value. Coded by 19-year-old, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface. In the first 21 months of service, DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, appealing over $4m of parking tickets. Not bad for a free service!
It always brightens my day to receive these emails. I wish the local governments would just follow the rules pic.twitter.com/1gz6NjYSs3
— Joshua Browder (@jbrowder1) June 26, 2016
Visabot, helps 70K customers apply for immigration services since 2016
Visabot chats with customers over Facebook Messenger and the company’s website. It asks simple questions and helps complete the application. Users pay to print the documents, which they mail to the government. Visabot’s founders claim that their product costs 10 percent of the usual legal fees.
7- Chatbot as doctor? Yes, we are getting there
Dr. A.I.♥ already makes recommendations like a Doctor
Developed by the healthcare app, HealthTap, Dr. A.I.♥ reads patients symptoms, asks follow-up questions and analyzes their data stored in the HealthTap app to guide patients to the right level of doctor-recommended care. Dr. A.I.♥ uses HealthTap’s database of answers written by medical doctors to make the right recommendations regarding what next steps the patient should take. The next steps can range from reading doctor recommendations, scheduling a virtual or in-person doctor visit to seeking urgent care.
Melody by Baidu, China’s Google, helps doctors collect symptoms
Melody collects symptoms from patients and summarizes them to doctors. Since diagnosing is pattern matching, it is not inconceivable that chat bots will one day be diagnosing us and prescribing us medicine. With doctor shortages expected globally by World Health Organization (WHO), such bots can indeed save lives.
8- Mitsuku keeps winning AI prizes and talking to millions of users
Founded in 2005, Mitsuku is a relatively old chatterbot. Mitsuku does not serve any specific purpose, all its aim is to engage and entertain users. It has earned Loebner Prize in 2013 and 2016. Loebner Prize awards chatbots based on their ability to have human-like conversations. However, the award is criticized within the AI community as it is based on subjective assessment of judges after a short conversation with the bots. Still, Mitsuku has been performing pretty well for a relatively old bot.
9- Swelly, reaches 2M users on Facebook
Swelly is a chatbot for getting your friends opinion regarding your decisions. Users ask their friends about what to wear, how to respond to messages and a myriad of other things. Admittedly, Swelly provides limited value, you could just ask friends for opinion. However, thanks to its viral aspects, it experienced strong growth and reached over 2 M users. However as the CEO admits, it has problems retaining its users.
10- Replika.ai got 500K Android downloads to clone people
Replika launched with a viral marketing campaign where customers could gain codes by inviting 3 friends to join the waitlist.
To be honest, Replika seems a bit creepy to me. It asks a potentially endless barrage of questions and follows your social media (if you allow it) to understand you enough to be an engaging conversationalist. Since early days of civilization, “know thyself” has been carved in stones and people’s minds as the ultimate goal. It could be great to have an AI companion helping one achieve that goal however my interactions with replika haven’t gotten to that level of intellectual depth yet.
11- Replyyes, a simple recommendation service, unlocks $1M sales
The Edit, an online vinyl store, unlocked $1M in sales in 8 months with a simple chatbot that sends daily record recommendations and provides a link for easy purchase if the customer responds “yes”.
12- Insomnobot-3000 for people with insomnia
This entertainment bot is your late night friend. This bot is only chatty between 11pm and 5am. You can say anything to it and it will reply. We couldn’t find traction metrics for the bot but this is a clever marketing trick for the mattress company Casper. To get a chat going, send a text to 844-823-5621.
The weather bot that gives you detailed and personalized weather reports each morning has some kind of humor. Financially and user traction-wise, it is one of the most successful bots ever. With $4.4M raised from prominent VCs and seven-day retention in the 60% range, Poncho is well poised to grow.
14- You need chatbot travel buddies because travel requires too much planning and bureaucracy
Wayblazer, your travel planner
Everyone knows how painful it is to organize a trip. You have to buy the plane/ferry tickets, arrange hotels, pick ups. Travel agencies make this more stressful by trying to get you to buy immediately showing ever increasing prices and a sense that the best deals are getting away.
Easier solutions are ready. Answering questions like “Where is the best place for my honeymoon?” Wayblazer works with travel agencies to offer personalized recommendations to travelers. Conversations enable chat bot to understand customers’ requirements in detail and to search for those requirements in extensive databases of offers.
Instalocate helps you get reimbursed from airlines
Everyone needs a friend who is born organizer so that, plans everything, check flights, suggests where to go, where to eat etc. If you can’t think such friend of yours, you have Instalocate. It even helps you get flight delay compensation should your flights be delayed. This bot is everything you need for your travels.
Instalocate also has a sensible business models, it takes 25% cut when passengers get compensated from airlines for delays, cancellations and overbookings. With $300K payment processed in 6 months and >1.1M messages exchanged, instalocate is one of the financially successful chatbots.
15- Polly wants to know more about you
Polly is a survey bot on Slack and Microsoft Teams. Though online survey tools are probably as old as internet, Polly adds a level of interactivity not promoted in typical survey tools.
Polly is mostly used to collect employee data like employee satisfaction seamlessly on collaboration platforms. Boasting quite a few Fortune 500 references, Polly seems to be gaining traction.
Now that you know about these success stories it is time to dive into the key takeaways.
Restrain your ambition (I know it is tough!)
The scope of your chatbot is crucial. Save for 2 bots, all bots in the list are laser focused. Wordsmith takes in structured data to prepare reports, visabot prepares immigration forms.
Let’s look into the more generalist bots. Microsoft’s XiaoIce is impressive but you need a Microsoft-caliber research team to build a bot with such strong understanding of the world. As for Mitsuku, she has been under development since 2005 and while she is engaging, she is not as engaging as XiaoIce which boasts that the average person who adds XiaoIce talks to her more than 60 times per month.
Find a valuable area for your bot
It is difficult to market your bot given intense competition in the space. Every problem has multiple bots trying to solve it! Even only on Facebook, there’s already 30K+ bots. The successful bots really solve a specific problem like scheduling meetings or generating reports.
Since you came this far, you are probably excited about launching your own chatbot. There are plenty of platforms that allow you to build bots in a matter of hours. And if you are working for a large company, there are full service chatbot companies that can take your bot concept from idea to implementation. Hope your bot makes it to our list soon! And please comment if you believe we are missing out any important bots in this list.