From Eliza to XiaoIce: Challenges and Opportunities with Social Chatbots

by   Heung-Yeung Shum, et al.

Conversational systems have come a long way after decades of research and development, from Eliza and Parry in the 60's and 70's, to task-completion systems as in the ATIS project, to intelligent personal assistants such as Siri, and to today's social chatbots like XiaoIce. Social chatbots' appeal lies in not only their ability to respond to users' diverse requests, but also in being able to establish an emotional connection with users. The latter is done by satisfying the users' essential needs for communication, affection, and social belonging. The design of social chatbots must focus on user engagement and take both intellectual quotient (IQ) and emotional quotient (EQ) into account. Users should want to engage with the social chatbot; as such, we define the success metric for social chatbots as conversation-turns per session (CPS). Using XiaoIce as an illustrative example, we discuss key technologies in building social chatbots from core chat to visual sense to skills. We also show how XiaoIce can dynamically recognize emotion and engage the user throughout long conversations with appropriate interpersonal responses. As we become the first generation of humans ever living with AI, social chatbots that are well-designed to be both useful and empathic will soon be ubiquitous.


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