Conversation As a Platform

Image by EvelynGiggles / CC BY

Track: NET113

Presenter: Dr. Neil Roodyn

Although I’d never heard of the phrase ‘Conversation as a Platform’ before, I was aware of the concept of talking to machines, using my phone to search Google using speech, Cortana, and Siri. Maybe not Cortana, but it sits there in my taskbar willing me to talk to it.

Neil defines Conversation as a platform as:

  • A natural way for us to engage with machines
  • Use the language we already use to talk to each other
  • Use the channels we already communicate across

This helps to clarify the concept for me, this goes beyond voice recognition, or API’s, or web services, it’s having devices appear more intelligent to us, and it uses our existing communication channels, Which could be Skype, Twitter, SMS, or Whatsapp, but however we interact, the conversation happens on a channel the user (customer) is familiar with.

The basis of the session is the question: ‘How do we build the framework for the conversation?’ We get into code pretty quickly, using Microsoft’s Bot Framework (docs.botframework.com) to build a bot.

Microsoft have included a C# template for visual studio plus the Bot Framework emulator, and the session uses these. The Emulator is a way of communicating with a bot in the development environment, it looks like a chat session with messages passed in, and a response is given by the bot into the emulator and displayed as text.

Neil shows us that with not much effort a simple bot can be created. The example he uses in this session is simple, and by using some if/else logic, a simple conversation can be achieved. In this instance intent (to order food) and separate menu items were pulled from a request from the customer, and so a suitable response could be given.

There is another great benefit to using the Microsoft bot Framework, by publishing the bot to Azure there is, as normal, a public URL to hit the bot, as Neil says in the session, it is just a web app. With Azure that web app gets a webAppID, and that webAppID can be registered at botframework.com which will give the option to publish the bot to various channels – Skype, Email, Facebook Messenger, and Direct Line.

Neil uses a William Gibson quote at the beginning of the session ‘The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’ with this Bot Framework, Azure and the integration with existing channels it feels like we’re there now.

Links
Bot Framework docs.botframework.com
Direct Line https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/bot-framework/rest-api/bot-framework-rest-direct-line-3-0-concepts

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