Chatbots

A brief history of chatbots

A chatbot is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods.

The term “ChatterBot” was originally coined by Michael Mauldin in 1994 to describe these conversational programs but they are much older, the first one being ELIZA by Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT in 1966.

Leaving the academic world, conversational agents have been typically used in dialog systems including customer service or information acquisition.
Many large companies started to use automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans, to provide a first point of contact.
Most of these systems ask you to push a digit corresponding to what you want or say what you’re calling about and scan for keywords within the vocal input, then pull a reply with the most matching answer from a database.
These systems are based on simple logic trees (SLT).

An SLT agent relies therefore on a fixed decision tree to gather information and redirect the user.
For example, an insurance bot may ask several questions to determine which policy is ideal for you. Or an airline bot could ask you the departure city, the destination and a time. Or a device diagnostics bot could guide you through the hardware components and tests to find out the issue.
It´s a finite-state dialog, the system completely controls the conversation.
If your input match what the bot has anticipated, the experience will be seamless. However, if it stray from the answers programmed and stored in the bot database, you might hit a dead-end. Back to a human to complete the interaction…

These were efficient and simple systems but not really effective.
In normal human-to-human dialogue the initiative shifts back and forth between the participants, it’s not system-only.

A very recent trend is to use natural language processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms such as you see in smartphone-based personal assistants (Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana  or Google Now) or when talking to your car or your home automation system (Amazon Alexa) or in some messaging platforms.

Continue reading “Chatbots”

Premium prices and data

Putting a premium price on certain products which cost almost the same to produce is a common marketing trick which can be brought back to the price sensibility of the different consumer and is having now a boom thanks to the extremely exact consumer profiling.
Think about the cappuccino made with fair trade coffee or with vanilla flavour. By buying one of them you send the message that you don’t mind paying a bit extra.
The strategy is to charge the highest price that the consumer will pay for that product.
A pricing strategy called First Price discrimination:

Exercising First degree (or Perfect/Primary) price discrimination requires the seller of a good or service to know the absolute maximum price (or reservation price) that every consumer is willing to pay.

More generally there are 3 common techniques for finding customers who are the first degree price discrimination: Continue reading “Premium prices and data”

My new book: “from Zero to Agile”

cover

I have just published on Amazon my new book about Agile.

Agile is on great advance, more and more organisations and teams adopting it. But what is it exactly? And how do you become agile?

In this book I want to show how is possible to introduce gradually a series of changes so that at the end your organisation will be agile (i.e., it has understood the Agile values and principles and know how to apply them), not only does some kind of Agile practices.

Through examples you can see how to introduce and tailor the Agile principles, week after week: in 8 weeks we took a team with no prior experience of Agile into changing its mentality and attitude.

I hope this journey can help your team (and further: the entire organisation) to do a similar one toward the same goal: being Agile.

The examples show which are the general principles and why / when they make sense, so you will be able to inspect your situation, adapt these principles (as needed) and adopt them, finally repeating this cycle continuously.

Build your method up, don’t tailor it down.

Finally, this book is about agility as values system, culture, mind-set, and not about a specific process or methodology. All the currently most used methodologies – Scrum, Lean and Kanban – will be described, each one with its advantages and disadvantages.

The book contains revised versions of the posts published here in the past plus several brand new chapters (about Kanban, how to scale Agile and many examples of retrospectives for each topic introduced every week).