Chatting with these bots a big challenge

The Straits Times tries chatting with four virtual assistants on various local websites


Local organisations and companies have deployed chatbots on their websites and Facebook pages.

These chatbots usually help you find relevant answers based on keywords in your queries, though some are more akin to automated phone systems.

None of them will pass the influential Turing test for artificial intelligence (AI), and fool you into thinking that it is a human being.

Dr Rafael E. Banchs, Head of Dialogue Technology Laboratory at A*Star's Institute for Infocomm Research, explained that current artificial intelligence is poor at common-sense reasoning and is unable to use real-world experiences to interpret what is being asked and draw the right conclusions.

However, he believes that chatbots do not need to be intelligent as long as they are useful: "Chatbot technologies can definitively help with common and repeated requests for information, saving us a lot of effort and repetitive work."

I tried chatting with four such virtual assistants on local websites or their Facebook pages.

To assess their usefulness, I asked them knowledge-based questions. I also asked irrelevant questions to find out how they would respond.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Chatting with these bots a big challenge'. Subscribe