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When AI Chatbots Attack: What You Need to Know About the Struggle to Program Empathy

What’s new in the world of AI and chatbots? Plenty, actually. Love them or hate them, you’d better be prepared for these technologies to power the future of the B2B sales process. First, though, there are a few kinks that need to be worked out—or manners to be worked in, however you want to look at it.

Don’t think so? Don’t be so quick to forget Microsoft’s chatbot Tay, the millennial-esque chatbot that became the opposite of chill when it sent out a barrage of offensive, racist tweets back in March. What was the result of malicious hacking (and a sad ending for Tay) raised real questions that take far more than 140 snarky characters to answer: Can chatbots be both empowered to provide customer service and still be sensitive to human emotions? Can you program empathy?

Some in the industry, like the co-founder of machine-learning startup Koko, say yes. The company is working to add empathy as a service to its chatbot-human interactions. While that’s definitely progress, there’s still a long way to go. For example, studies show that some smartphone AIs like Siri and Cortana severely underperform when responding to queries that any decent human would likely handle with the utmost sensitivity—namely depression, physical ailments, or sexual assault.

It’s obvious chatbots need a hefty dose of tact and compassion, but not everyone is as optimistic as the team behind Koko. In fact, some believe programming those intangibles is simply asking too much and that human emotions are best left to humans.

Regardless of what camp you’re in, the fact is that the development of AI technologies and customer-facing uses for chatbots will continue to grow. As it does, the issue of programming sensitivity becomes less about avoiding PR nightmares—although that’s a big one—and more about shaping the future of customer service.

We’ve covered this issue in-depth on our sister site, Futurum, where you can go to find detailed analysis from our team of experts on the issues that shape where your business is today and where it’s going tomorrow.

Read: AI and Chatbots: Getting Their Sensitivity Training

Photo Credit: @yojosemere via Compfight cc

Shelly Kramer

Shelly Kramer is a 20+ year marketing veteran and CEO of V3 Broadsuite, a marketing consultancy, and the President of Broadsuite Media Group. She’s a business strategist focused on B2B digital transformation, and delivering integrated marketing solutions for clients. She’s an expert at omnichannel marketing, content strategy and execution, connecting social media to business initiatives, and helping clients leverage the web for growth and profitability.