We were part of the group who recently attended the chatbot workshop in Liskeard. After a quick train journey, we met up with Tony Edwards from the Software Cornwall education outreach team, and made our way to the Real Ideas Organization office (RIO) before setting up the Raspberry Pis and getting to work.
After swift introductions to Wo and Josh from Hi9, we were shown the basics of Dialogflow, an online Google application (its free, give it a try), before putting it into practice for ourselves. We were walked through how to create a basic chatbot which would direct a spy to infiltrate an enemy base, giving the spy many options to take along the way.
We then discussed how chatbots are/will be used in the real word. This part of the day was incredibly interesting, as we talked about how rapidly this part of the industry is changing, and how it’s already beginning to disrupt the consumer tech industry. It really is quite astounding when you begin to realise the potential of this technology, how it could replace the touch screens and keyboards of today with the spoken languages we all learn from birth. And how about the fact that already, people are forming emotional connections with relatively simple bots like Amazon Echo.
It also made us rethink how we value our English lessons, as if language is to become so important in consumer’s connections with devices, then perhaps we should be learning more about linguistics and metaphor (already authors, poets, playwrights, etc. are being employed in the industry)!
After all of this, we felt as though we needed a break so we went to get pasties and had a much more light-hearted discussion, which somehow led us to the ‘Motochimp’ e-bike, a product which we all thought looked super cool, which was where we came to our next idea, a chatbot to go along with the bike!
Before we began working on Momo the Chimp, we further discussed the parts of a chatbot that make it compelling to use, such as persona and natural, flowing conversations. This helped us to design a chatbot which would be engaging and useful. We were taught to plan conversations that the user could have and to try and keep them talking to the bot for as long as possible. This also helped to give us a greater insight into how humans interact with chatbots, and how thinking about who the bot is first, and then planning conversations from there, can help people to form an attachment to their bot (it sounds weird, but it helps to ensure the user won’t switch to a different brand).
Eventually, we got on to our final project. We were each assigned an abstract image from which we had to develop a chatbot. Leon’s was a little girl with a shadow of a monster and Bertie’s was a magnifying glass. Leon decided to turn his into a nightmare therapist, who was also a complete hippie, and Bertie decided to create Sue the Shoe Finder, a bot who tried to help find lost shoes!
From this event we have learned so much! Not just about using the particular software, but also teamwork, communications, marketing, and how to develop new products… not to mention the importance of chatbots in our future! Overall, it was a brilliant experience and if you’re ever invited to any similar events, we would definitely recommend it!
This post was written by Leon and Bertie, participants of Software Cornwalls Digital Gurus initiative. This event was also part of the Game Changer program. Find out more about the Digital Guru program and our other education outreach activities.