Student interns part of team for Shiseido chatbot

A team of 11 Temasek Polytechnic students and digital agency Equator spent about three months developing Shiseido's bot (left).
A team of 11 Temasek Polytechnic students and digital agency Equator spent about three months developing Shiseido's bot (above).PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Ask the new Shiseido chatbot where it is from and it will tell you it hails from Japan, just like the cosmetics label it works for.

The voice of the bot and template for how it phrases questions and answers were created by a team of 11 Temasek Polytechnic student interns and digital agency Equator.

Communications and Media Management student Danielle Roman, 19, from the team that spent about three months developing the bot, says they had to generate conversational content for the bot.

"We had to come up with questions about skincare and beauty that people would likely ask," says the Singaporean, who says this includes phrasing similar questions in myriad ways so the bot is able to provide the correct answers.

The students, who provided input for the bot's interface design, also came up with answers for more random questions.

"There will always be that one person who comes in to challenge the chatbot and we wanted to make sure the bot will not only provide a seamless beauty consultation experience, but also be more all-rounded in conversation," says Ms Roman.

Thus, when asked its age, the bot will answer: "Age is a woman's best-kept secret."

Mr Hontat Ong, 42, mobile architect from Equator, says this is one of the most important considerations of building a chatbot.

"Chatbots answer questions by using a natural language processing (NLP) engine to process the questions. So the most crucial part of building the chatbot would be training the NLP engine to work with actual chat data and making the bot understand more questions to give meaningful responses to customers."

As for questions the bot has not been trained to answer, Mr Ong says: "We will be able to set a desired default response and also guide users back to the available menu of content."

But will artificial intelligence take over human customer service officers completely?

This is unlikely, says Mr Ong.

Most chatbots are built for a specific subject or purpose, he says, adding that more advanced versions such as Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri are evolving towards covering more subjects or purposes.

"However, the ones we see in the market now are still not comparable with what a human can do."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Student interns part of team for Shiseido chatbot'. Print Edition | Subscribe