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UNDERSTANDING CONVERSATIONS AI MICROCOURSE

CONVERSATION DESIGN

Conversation design is part science, part art. Understand how to bring together the two and learn how to be a conversation designer.
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Conversation Design Institute
Our Designing Conversations microcourses are supported by the Conversation Design Institute, the world’s leading training and certification institute for conversation design with students in over 50 countries around the world. 
 
How do you design a conversation?
In the WHAT IS A CONVERSATION? microcourse, you learned that there are rules in conversation. While breaking them might not be disastrous, it will certainly make having a conversation more difficult.
 
So how do we design conversations when one of the participants is a human and the other is a computer? We’re going to need to know to be able to build conversations with a digital person in our DIALOGFLOW and DIGITAL PEOPLE microcourses.
 
TALKING TO AN AI
 
First, watch this video. It shows Google Duplex, which can make calls to humans by generating artificial speech.
 
It’s not a human doing the calling. It’s a computer. It’s pretty convincing.
 
See how Duplex very cleverly inserts ‘mhmm’s” and pauses to make it seem like it’s a real person speaking.
 
In the background are some brilliant algorithms that make sense of what the other person is saying and respond correctly.
DIGITAL PEOPLE
 
You’ve met Hailey. She’s our own digital person, and she’s our guide to the AI microcourses. She can have a conversation with you about topics related to AI.
 
In the AI ETHICS microcourse, she also becomes a teacher, helping you understand some of the issues around questions like should we build AI and what are the benefits and dangers of AI.
 
Hailey is built by a company called Soul Machines, which uses sophisticated AI combined with realistic graphics and animation to create digital people.
 
Head to this page to see how the World Health Organisation used a Soul Machines digital person, Florence, to encourage people to quit smoking.
 
Digital People like Florence can be programmed to speak up to 12 languages, as you can see here.
CHATBOTS
 
Of course, you don’t need speech to have a conversation with a computer.
 
You may have used a chatbot before, which is a conversation using text chat with a computer. There are some terrible chatbots around, and some great ones.
 
Here’s another example from the World Health Organisation which uses a chatbot to help people understand COVID-19.
the World Health Organisation which uses a chatbot to help people understand COVID-19.
HOW DO WE DESIGN CONVERSATIONS?
 
Whether it’s Hailey, Google Duplex or a chatbot, there are some things that might be important when designing conversations.
 
Of course, each technology is different and can do different things. And we know there are many kinds of conversations - but we also know they all share the same kind of rules.
 
Here are some things that you might want to consider when designing a conversation.
 
Personality
 
Yes, AI can have a personality.
 
Whether it’s a chatbot or a digital person, an AI's conversation can be programmed to be more or less formal or more or less friendly. As you will see from talking to Hailey, she’s fond of jokes and animal facts but can also talk seriously about the AI courses and what you can learn.
 
Age, name and gender
 
Although an AI could be any age, have any name and be any gender, it might make sense to think about what would work for the people who will talk to the AI. The great thing about AI is that it can change any of these things.
 
Are there situations in which have a male, female or other-gendered AI? Are there times when a younger person might be better to talk to?
 
All of these things can be reflected in the kinds of things that the AI says.
 
Would your AI saying Yo, dude, I’m totally like triggered by that work for some people and not others?
 
Vocabulary
 
Vocabulary - or the specific words your AI speaks - can be chosen to match what it is for and who it will talk to.
 
If you are discussing sensitive topics like mental health - such as in the AI chatbot Woebot, which helps people with mental health problems - more compassionate and caring language might be the best choice. But if you are building a conversational AI that gets people to think creatively, then some humour and jokes might work.
 
And remember Paul Grice’s cooperative principle and the four maxims -  quality, quantity, relevance and manner.
 
These, along with personality, age, name, gender and vocabulary, contribute to building successful conversations with AI.
TESTING IT OUT
 
One way we can figure out whether we are building the right kind of conversation is to simulate a conversation on the topic between two humans and then write it down and use it as a template.
 
For example, imagine we asked you to build a chatbot that students could use to find out about what courses they could take this semester.
 
You would first need to find out what year they were in and maybe what options they had chosen. You might then ask them to choose from a list of courses, and when they have chosen, give them some more information.
 
Why not get with a classmate and try and simulate this conversation. You can be the bot, and the classmate is the person. See if you can find out where there might be places in the conversation that are tricky and where you need to think carefully about how the conversation is designed - such as when the human needs to choose from a list of things.
 
Here’s an example of what you might come up with:
BOT: Hi! I’m CourseBot. I can help you find out about what you’re going to study. Let’s get started. What year are you in?
 
PERSON: I’m in year 9.
 
BOT: Cool. Did you choose any options? If you didn’t, don’t worry we can sort that out.
 
PERSON: Nope.
 
BOT: All good. So here’s what you can study year 9, semester 2. If you want to know more, either type the course name or the number and I’ll get that for you. If you need help, just type HELP.
  1. Psychology
  2. Sociology
  3. Innovation
  4. Design
PERSON: Innovation
 
BOT: Oh cool. Great choice. Let me tell you about innovation...
BE A CONVERSATION DESIGNER
 
Thinking about all of these issues and then designing conversations is what a conversation designer does.
 
It’s a new kind of job that has really only been created by the need for AI systems to have conversations.
 
The conversation you tried to simulate above is the kind of thing that a conversation designer would do. Products like Google Duplex, digital people from Soul Machines, Microsoft or Discord chatbots and smart assistants like Siri or Alexa all have teams of conversation designers.
 
One of the things a conversation designer does is to work out what are called intents - a set of questions that a human might ask an AI about different topics.
 
For example, a simple intent from the conversation earlier is HELP.
 
Programming the AI with the intent HELP - and variations like  I need HELP or HELP me - would tell the AI to offer a specific kind of response.
 
Another example is the intent YEAR 9, which should be designed to allow someone to say just 9, or year 9, or year nine, or I’m in year 9, just as a person might when talking to a human. This makes the conversation much more natural.
 
We’re going to learn all about intents and responses in the CONVERSATION DESIGN TOOLS microcourse, and later you’ll be able to program your own intents and responses using Google Dialogflow in the DIALOGFLOW microcourse.
 
If you want to learn more about the kinds of projects that a conversation designer would work on, you can search up conversation designer or read this article.
UX Collective: What is a conversation(chatbot) designer — and why will this role grow in 2020?
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
 
Would you like to be a conversation designer?
 
What kinds of skills does a conversation designer need to have?
 
Can you think of a conversation that it would be very hard to design?
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