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Chatbots, in other words, may be great at ordering stuff from Amazon or telling you to put a coat on because the forecast says it is going to rain, but they are nowhere near ready to help you fix your technical problem. Uttering comforting platitudes to the broken hearted is not the height of intelligence. Solving complex technical problems is much more complicated because the problem area is much more diverse.But even if they were a lot smarter than they are, chatbots would still not be the future of technical communication. Putting a voice interface on the AI isn’t going to change that.In fact, tales of tech support are predominantly tales of frustration on both sides of the phone.And what does tech support do if you ask them to help you with a truly complex problem?Command line interfaces, whether visual or verbal, still have the same problem they have always had: they don’t support discovery and exploration.
It is the clumsy, time consuming, non-discoverable, hard to explore nature of the interface that is the heart of the problem.One of the leading researchers in the field, Yann Le Cun, Facebook’s director of AI, said at a Future of Work conference at MIT in November that machines are far from having “the essence of intelligence.” That includes the ability to understand the physical world well enough to make predictions about basic aspects of it—to observe one thing and then use background knowledge to figure out what other things must also be true. In fact, we have had chatbots you can type at for a long time.Another way of saying this is that machines don’t have common sense. ELIZA, a chatbot created in the 1960’s at MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab could act as a Rogerian psychotherapist.The difference is that technical support is still (mostly) staffed by human beings who have that common sense, that “ability to understand the physical world well enough to make predictions about basic aspects of it—to observe one thing and then use background knowledge to figure out what other things must also be true” that AIs just don’t have yet, and that some speculate they may never have.
But the thing is, talking to tech support is not exactly technical communication nirvana.
But chatbots are not the future of technical communication. As Will Knight writes in Tougher Turing Test Exposes Chatbots’ Stupidity in the , current AI does barely better than chance in deciphering the ambiguity in a sentence like: “The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence.” (Who feared the violence?