Here’s 6 helpful chatbots that prove conversation machines can do more than just talk

best chatbots 56867161  robot typing on conceptual self illuminated keyboard
Even a decade ago, talking to your computer was probably a sign that you’d been working too hard and could do with a lie down. Today, no such stigma applies. That’s because chatbots — the conversational agents capable of simulating intelligent conversations with human users — have made some massive leaps forward.

From changing the way kids learn in schools to picking you out the perfect meal this evening, here are the seven of the most interesting chatbots doing the rounds at the moment.

Changing how kids learn

cd4d83ca84043c44593fab5de5e3b9317b11efe1_1469091571-1260x840

From MOOCs (Massive open online courses) to the use of iPads in schools, there’s no doubt that technology is changing the way that we learn.

Chatbots could have a similar effect, too — by offering a means by which children can better interact with the subjects they’re studying. That was the conclusion reached by UK-based tech company +rehabstudio. During a recent hackathon event, they came up with the idea of creating an “edubot” that would enable kids to ask questions to a tyrannosaurus rex (called Tina) using Facebook Messenger. The finished product was a collaboration between +rehabstudio (providing the tech) and National Geographic Kids (providing the data.)

“The biggest challenge was training,” CC Clark, head of marketing for +rehabstudio, told Digital Trends. “Tina can answer many different questions, all of which relate to herself such as habitat, diet and so on, and each of those can be expressed in many different ways — especially where kids are involved. The bulk of our work was in of user-testing, feedback, and scripting appropriate responses.”

Still, when the results work it’s more than worth it. “It’s not always easy to get kids to engage with something educational, but getting to chat to a seemingly-real life, walking, talking, bone-crunching dinosaur?” Gemma Chandler, Digital Editor at NG Kids, told Digital Trends. “That ought to get their attention!”

Check it out

Making politics more accessible

Wet grinder, India
javarman/Shutterstock

In their current state, most people probably wouldn’t expect to have a conversation with a chatbot about politics. However, that’s exactly what’s been happening in India where an estimated 36 per cent of the country’s 884 million-person rural population is unable to read or write.

To help promote political engagement during elections, the startup Voxta created a chatbot with speech recognition capabilities in four different languages — allowing users to ask questions in their own language and access recorded answers about political parties’ policies and views. Tools like this are still in their infancy, but they offer a glimpse at how chatbots could help promote political engagement in the years to come.

Learn more

Giving us someone to confide in

Xiaoice

Fancy a therapeutic chat with a chatbot? We might be a long way away from the world demonstrated in Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her, in which a lonely middle-aged man develops a relationship with his Scarlett Johansson-voiced virtual assistant, Samantha. However, that doesn’t mean that chatbots aren’t starting to explore this particular sphere of human relationships.

In China millions of smartphone users frequently spend hours interacting with Xiaoice, a Microsoft-created chatbot which exchanges text messages with its users. Xiaoice uses deep learning technology to pair up user queries with human-generated responses mined from the Internet. It can even track real life details about its users, such as who they are dating or what they do for a living, and return to these topics in later conversations – such as asking how a person is coping after losing their job.

Check it out

Appealing parking tickets

DoNotPay robotic lawyer UK parking tickets

Earlier this year, 19-year-old British computer whiz Joshua Browder made waves when he developed a free legal chatbot which proved successful at appealing around $4 million worth of parking tickets.

While the robot lawyer won’t be replacing human lawyers any time soon, it does do impressively well at understanding the appeals process and breaking it down into standardized questions to be answered. Working out details like who was driving a car, or whether signage was confusing or unclear, the robot is capable of generating a properly-worded appeals letter which can then be mailed off to court.

And that’s not all it can do…

Check it out

Helping homeless people apply for housing

richard-gere-homeless-hoax

Speaking of the DoNotPay robot lawyer, Joshua Browder recently expanded its abilities to also help homeless people in the UK apply for assistance in the form of government housing.

“I’m working with several lawyers and Centrepoint, the largest charity in the UK for homeless youth, to design a free way for those who face eviction and repossession to claim housing from the government,” Bowder told Digital Trends. “It works by asking questions to ensure the person is eligible before taking down specific details. The eligibility questions include whether you’re a UK citizen and whether you’re legally homeless, for example. It will then use all that information to generate a complete housing letter, which can be sent directly to the government.”

The legal document created is even created so as to “maximize [a claimant’s] legal chances” by highlighting the most relevant information. “In the future, I’m also looking to expand it to help Syrian refugees claim asylum in the UK,” Bowder said.

Check it out

Diagnosing disease

HealthTap

When Facebook opened up its Messenger app to third-party developers earlier this year, one of the companies to jump on board was the health-focused HealthTap. The chatbot presented here let users type questions into Messenger and be matched up with responses from real life doctors.

“We’re excited to be the first healthcare company to deliver fast, high-quality information from compassionate doctors directly to people all over the world through the Messenger Platform,” HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman said when it launched.

Paying customers can then seek additional help through live chat, or audio and video appointments. Right now, HealthTap boasts of featuring in excess of 100,000 doctors across 141 specialties.

No, chatbots aren’t going to replace your regular physician any time soon (anyone who thinks complex health problems can be answered using some smart keyword searching or natural language processing doesn’t understand medicine), but they could act as a valuable triage service to point you in the right direction.

Check it out

Picking us out a recipe

Power Supply Food Delivery

Fancy a new way to find tantalizing recipes? Whole Foods has joined the Facebook Messenger party by coming up with a way to turn text or even emoji-based searches (finally, a non-lewd use for that eggplant emoji!) into suggestions. Enter a taco emoji, for instance, and you’ll receive links to recipes featuring tacos.

Given that it’s a Whole Foods innovation, the recipes are unsurprisingly all based around the Whole Foods website — but it makes working out what you’re going to eat for dinner tonight and then buying the ingredients painless and, weirdly, even kind of fun. Best of all is the fact that Whole Food lets you add text to modify recipes in line with any unique dietary requirements you might have.

Check it out

Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Gaming

25 awesome indie games you should definitely be playing right now

These days, some of the best video games are made by independent studios. Here are 25 of the best indie games, whether you prefer grueling dungeon crawlers or otherworldly, meditative adventures.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now (April 2019)

Amazon Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be a major undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Gaming

Transform into the ultimate leader with our tips and tricks for Civilization 6

Civilization VI offers both series veterans and total newcomers a lot to chew on from the get-go. Here are some essential starting tips to help you master the game's many intricacies.
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!
Emerging Tech

Geoengineering is risky and unproven, but soon it might be necessary

Geoengineering is a field dedicated to purposely changing the world's climate using technology. Call it 'playing god' if you must; here's why its proponents believe it absolutely must happen.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Earth Day, indoor container farming, robot submarines

Today on Digital Trends Live, we discuss how technology intersects with Earth Day, a new Tim Cook biography, indoor container farming, robot spy submarines, A.I. death metal, and more.
Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Hawaiian botanists’ drone discovers a plant thought to be lost forever

In what may well be a world first, botanists in Hawaii recently used a drone to find a species of plant that scientists believed was extinct. The plant was located on a sheer cliff face nearly 20 years after its last sighting.
Emerging Tech

Alphabet’s Wing drones now have FAA approval to deliver packages in the U.S.

Alphabet Wing has become the first company to receive Air Carrier Certification from the FAA. This means that it can begin commercial deliveries from local businesses to homes in the U.S.
Emerging Tech

A battery-free pacemaker harvests and stores energy from heartbeats

Researchers in China and the United States have developed a new battery-free pacemaker which gathers its required electricity from the energy of heartbeats. Here's why that's so exciting.