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Chatterbots and Natural Language Processing: A real example with Brazilian Correios Bot TweetComendas

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hi all,

In a previous post at this blog I've presented two web robots that I developed : Tweetcomendas and TransitoRE.  For Tweetcomendas, which is a Twitter bot for track mail orders from Brazilian post office Correios, I've developed a chat bot to interact with the users. Besides Twitter,  the user  also can track his orders by asking at real-time our Chat Client TweetComendas.

Recently, several approaches were proposed in the research domain of chatterbots. But first let's review the concepts of a chatterbot or chatbot.  Chatterbots are computer programs that seek to simulate a human in the conversation with other people. Its goal is to answer questions in a manner that people have the impression they are talking with a real person and not a computer program. This  tatement remembers me the Turing Test which is a test proposed by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper in order to evaluate the machine's ability to demonstrate intelligence by using conversation between humans and machines. It's quite interesting, I recommend the reading.

So after the dispatch of the questions in natural language, the program consults a knowledge database and then provides an answer which tries to mimic the human behavior.  Although, many chatterbots do appear to simulate the human input intelligently in their responses,  the bot that I developed tries to simulate an human assistant by scanning for keywords within the input and answers the closest as possible in natural language the statuses of the orders at Brazilian Correios.

Recently, chatbot techniques have been used for several practical purposes such as online help, personalised services or information acquisition, by working as a conversational agent. One of the classical examples of Chatterbot is A.L.I.C.E, which uses a weak A.I.. In the example of A.L.I.C.E, it uses a programming language called AIML, which is specific to its function as a conversational agent and has been adopted by many developers, which created the called Alicebots.

A.L.I.C.E

The one that I've liked a lot and at some way inspired to develop my own bot was the Aadvark ChatterBot. Aadvark, recently bought by Google, was  a startup focused on creating a social recommendation engine mashing-up some components of Yahoo! Answers and Instant Messaging.  Their service is to offer the user the possibility of asking a question to the bot, and based on its algorithms it will compute its own tag (keywords or you could give it a few) and then, it will find a right person to your question and it will forward it to him in order to  answer. The best part is that Aadvark works very well not only in their web page but also in another clients such as IM's, Iphone, etc.  So you have a question, just open the chat screen of the bot and ask a question and after some minutes you may get a useful answer in the same session (client). Try it for free and see its power!

Aadvark Chat Client


The Tweetcomendas ChatterBot is actually a Jabber Chat Clients which uses the XMPP protocol for receiving and pushing text messages. I've used as an example of another bots that I am planning to develop. Let's see a working example of how it works:

1- First, we have to add the chatter bot tweetcomendas@bot.im (it uses the IMIFIED IM's  bots infrastructure, so you can host your bot there for free.).

2 - After he comes online, you can send at anytime the tracking code of your package order from Correios in order to track it.

It uses regular expressions to match the tracking code.

3 - Wait while he looks at the Correios Tracking WebServices and receive the current status.

The current status in natural language for the user.

3 - Now, another useful feature of the Tweetcomendas ChatterBot is he can actually track for you automatically your order and any new updates he will come to you by giving the new status on your chat client if you're online or by sending you an e-mail (It only works with gmail by now.)

He will ask you politely if you want him to track your order for you.

A gentleman chatterBot :D

4 - Receive new updates of your order by e-mail or by your Jabber Client.

Updates on your e-mail even when you 're not online at the Google Talk


So, this is my first attempt to develop real useful chatter bots for helping users in order to track their post orders. There are many ideas in my mind that I want to create. I believe this kind of tool is the next generation of agents for interacting with people working as an assistant such as the Siri: a mobile assistant agent running on Iphones.  Take a look at the video and see the future of those kind of technologies.





I expect that you have enjoyed my simple bot, it still sometimes can be lazy but in almost of the time it works smoothly. Add to your Google Talk Contacts:  tweetcomendas@bot.im   This is a personal experiment project that I've developed with the help of Ricardo Caspirro (@ricardocaspirro) on intelligent agents and bots.  If you want more information  about it, take a look at its homepage. There is also other client working on Twitter!


That's all,

Cheers,

Marcel Caraciolo

4 comments:

  1. Hi Marcel,

    That's a very nice application, congratulations!

    Last year I've spent some time developing a chatterbot, too, while working for Ray Kurzweil. We're developing the latest version of Ramona, Ray's "virtual girlfriend".

    There's more information about this project here:
    http://multiverseaccordingtoben.blogspot.com/2010/07/ruminations-on-ramona-4.html

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