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Guestfriend automates chatbot creation for restaurants

While chatbots might sound like an interesting experiment for restaurants and other small businesses, they probably can’t devote much time or money to building them. So a startup called Guestfriend is planning to make the process as fast and easy as possible.

The company has raised $5 million in seed funding from Primary Venture Partners, Techstars Ventures and betaworks. It’s led by Bo Peabody, a venture partner and entrepreneur in residence at Greycroft who also co-owns the Mezze Restaurant Group. Peabody compared the current moment to the year 2000, when “every small business woke up and said, ‘I need a website.’”

“That moment is coming for chatbots,” he predicted.

But rather than asking a restaurant owner or employee to go online and design the conversational flow of a chatbot themselves, Guestfriend can automatically create a chatbot based on information that’s already online — hours, menu, support for dietary restrictions and so on. In that sense, Peabody said, “It’s really just a website that you talk to.”

“The ah-ha moment was when I realized that building a bot for my restaurant was virtually impossible to do as a one-off, but all of the answers to almost any question are available online, mostly in structured APIs,” he said.

Peabody suggested that the real challenge was building natural language technology that could support the range of questions that someone might ask — for example, all the different ways that people might ask about the dress code. That’s one reason why it was important to target a specific industry, though he eventually plans to expand into home services, retail, spas/salons/exercise and hotels. (“It’s really the Yelp verticals.”)

Guestfriend chatbots work across platforms, including SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Google search results (via Google My Business), with plans to support speech platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

The company is actually building these chatbots without waiting for restaurants to sign up. (You can try them out on the Guestfriend website.) The idea is that publishers with restaurant listings can also incorporate them as a new way to interact with their sites.

At the same time, restaurants can come in and claim their chatbots, which will be updated accordingly on everywhere that they’re available. The restaurant can then be as hands-on or as hands-off as they want.

I brought up the fact that I often visit restaurants’ Facebook Pages in the hopes of answering more timely questions, like whether or not a restaurant is staying open despite bad weather or a holiday. Peabody suggested that as with social media or a website, the up-to-dateness of the information will depend on the restaurant — some of them might want to update every day with things like daily specials. For others, a completely automated approach might be the most appealing.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Artificial Intelligence

ServiceNow chatbot builder helps automate common service requests

When it comes to making requests inside a company for new equipment or to learn about HR policies, it can be a frustrating experience for both sides of the equation. HR and IT are probably tired of answering the same questions. Employees are tired of calling a help desk for routine inquiries and waiting for answers. ServiceNow’s new bot-building technology is designed to alleviate that problem by providing a way to create an automated bot-driven process for routine requests.

The company claims that you can build these bots to provide end-to-end service. Meaning if you tell the bot you need a new phone, it can pull your records, understand what you currently have and and order a new one all in the same interaction — and all within a common messaging interface such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.

It also works for customer service transactions to process routine customer inquiries without having to route them to a CSR to answer typical questions.

The new chatbot building tool called Virtual Agent, has been built into the ServiceNow Now platform and provides a way for developers to build conversational interfaces easily, says CJ Desai, chief product officer at ServiceNow. “[The Virtual Agent] enables our customers to develop a wide range of intelligent service conversations from a quick question to an entire business action through the messaging platform of their choice,” Desai said in a statement.

The announcement is part of a broader AI initiative on the part of ServiceNow, which purchased Parlo, a chatbot startup, just last week for an undisclosed amount of cash. The acquisition should help give ServiceNow more AI engineering talent and help them beef up their natural language processing (NLP) to further refine and improve their chatbot products moving forward, as the Parlo team and technology get incorporated into the ServiceNow platform.

The company claims that using these chatbots, customers can reduce call volume to help desks and customer service by 15-20 percent, using the standard argument that it should free humans to handle more difficult inquiries.

The company joins a slew of other platform players including Salesforce, IBM, Oracle, AWS, and others who are incorporating chatbot building technology into their platforms.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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chatbots

HubSpot acquires chatbot builder Motion AI

HubSpot announced this morning that it has acquired chatbot startup Motion AI.

Motion AI launched in 2015 and offers an editor for building chatbots that work on websites, Facebook Messenger, SMS and Slack, no coding required. Even before the acquisition, the tool was already integrated into HubSpot Free CRM.

The entire Motion AI team, including founder and CEO David Nelson, will be joining HubSpot. The companies also said they’ll be sharing more details about the integration plans at HubSpot’s Inbound conference next week.

“It’s impossible to ignore the impact of chat and messaging, not just on the way B2B companies operate, but on society as a whole,” said HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan said in the acquisition announcement. “We’re in the midst of a massive shift as businesses embrace this new platform and consumers come to expect more immediate, always-on communication from brands.”

HubSpot (which acquired sales AI startup Kemvi few months ago) isn’t sharing the financial terms of the deal. Motion AI has raised funding from Charge Ventures, Crush Ventures and others.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Apps

To chat or not to chat? Shakespeare has the answer to your question

Chatbots are vying to become one of the cornerstones of the messaging world: using AI tools like natural language and machine learning, developers are hoping to tap into the popularity of chat apps as a medium of communication to explore new ways to help you get information, buy things, plan your life and more by letting you converse with intelligent computers instead of humans.

In the latest release, presented today at the Hackathon at TC Disrupt in San Francisco, a chatbot is hoping to drop some literary knowledge on the world and create a fun way of getting answers to your most pressing questions about life.

Get thee to a chatbot!

Shakespeare, as the bot is called, is a new messaging bot based on the works of the Bard of Avon. The developers have taken his poems and plays — which are available open-source — pulled out all of the most famous lines, and compiled them into a database. They then applied a natural language parser to index and understand the lines. Attaching them to different kinds of intent (for example, food-lunch-dish or here-place-hell), they have turned Shakespeare’s lines into potential answers to questions.

The end result is an effective conversation that you can have with a bot that not only speaks with you, but speaks in Shakespeare lines:

Now is the chatbot of our discontent.

A lot of people find chatbots to be more than a little frustrating these days — understandably so. Many of them don’t work as well as you hope they would, and others just seem kind of pointless, AI for no aim that feels better than just using the service that it’s trying to replace.

In that context, Shakespeare is more than a novelty play; it has an educational component to it, too. After each line, the reader can click on a link that takes you to the original text that it comes from.

Over time, Shakespeare could also be used for more than just William Shakespeare.

“I want to develop this further, definitely,” said Krishna Srinivasan, who co-created the app with Rich Skrenta and Jorge Gonzalez. “Given more than 24 hours,” — it was built at the Hackathon, which started yesterday — “I would add more famous personalities, like Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Gandhi, or other famous authors, or even people you know.”

The idea of creating bots that are reminiscent of other people is something that has been explored before, such as this chatbot that a friend made as a memorial and memento of someone she loved who had passed away. Srinivasan is also interested and intrigued by this idea.

“Today’s demo lifted famous quotes,” he said, “but what if we could rephrase answers into new lines, but keep the sense of the original speaker?”

It’s an ambitious and hard idea, Srinivasan admitted, but not one that is outside the scope of his and his co-hackers’ abilities, with their collective experience covering engineering roles at various startups, Yahoo, Apple and IBM.

The three all worked together at Blekko, a search startup that was eventually acquired by IBM. Skrenta, who had been the founder of Blekko, now is a director at IBM in the Watson group. Srinivasan had been employee number two at Blekko after Skrenta, but then moved on to Apple, before returning to IBM post the acquisition to work with Skrenta again. Gonzalez stayed in touch with them, too, and now is the director of engineering at ClassPass.

Another fun fact: Skrenta was a winner at last year’s Hackathon, with a navigation app called SafeRoute.

Here’s the video of how Shakespeare works:

News Source = techcrunch.com

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