Facebook close to building chat bots with true negotiation skills

Facebook close to building chat bots with true negotiation skills

BY JAMES WALKER JUN 15, 2017

Facebook is getting closer to building chatbots that are capable of planning conversations and negotiating with humans in a realistic way. By training the bots to mimic human responses, Facebook claims they can then make decisions on their own.

The company posted details of the project in a recent publicly available research paper. As Recode reports, the company presented chatbots with conversations between real people in which the participants negotiated to come to a conclusion. After "learning" how to negotiate by studying their human teachers, the bots were tested to see if they had mastered the skill.

Facebook tasked the chatbots with working with a "partner" to divide up several objects, each of which was correlated to a different numerical points value. The bots had to negotiate to work out the best way to divide the objects and accumulate the highest possible number of points.

After running the experiment several times, the bots reportedly managed to convince human participants they were negotiating with another person. While the evidence isn't entirely conclusive, Facebook said it shows the bots "learned to hold fluent conversations" around their subject matter. Since none of the observed behaviour was directly programmed by the researchers, its presence suggests the bots learned how to negotiate from the humans.

The breakthrough has significant implications for the future of chatbot development. Bots have repeatedly been held up by tech companies as a keystone of the AI-dominated future. Platforms such as Facebook's own within Messenger are seeing considerable growth. With over 100,000 developers now registered, it's clear bots are appealing to many in the industry, even if consumers are typically less enthusiastic.

For all the hype around chatbots, most have fallen flat so far though. Many of the supposedly most useful ones, such as those to let you order food or book movie tickets, aren't particularly helpful. They tend to follow basic conditional logic, responding to your queries with a preformulated response based on what you wrote. The experience is lacklustre and can be slower than navigating to the website and placing the order yourself, with saved card details.

Bots that can negotiate could transform this. With enhanced planning and decision capabilities, the templated control flow could be replaced with dynamic on-the-fly actions. The AI could decide on a path forward on your behalf, enabling developers to create more flexible interactions.

This kind of technology is still a considerable way off though. While the development is important, Facebook conceded that the example is just one negotiation interaction out of millions a bot may need to handle. It also said the bots weren't consistently able to outwit humans and it's yet to ascertain whether the skills are transferable to another scenario. There's a lot of work to do, but Facebook's dream of a bot-based future just got a bit closer to reality.


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