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UNDERSTANDING CONVERSATIONS AI MICROCOURSE

WHAT IS A CONVERSATION?

Learn about the psychology, and sociology, of conversation so you can create conversations with technologies like chatbots and digital people.

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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. 
What makes a good conversation?
You’ve talked to our digital person Hailey about the microcourses in HAILEYBURYX AI.
 
Later, in our microcourses on DIALOGFLOW, DIGITAL PEOPLE and DISCORDBOTS, you’ll learn about how to build conversational AI.
 
But what is a conversation?
 
Conversations between people are things that happen naturally. People just talk.
 
But if we want to make chatbots or digital people that talk to us, we have to design conversations.
 
In this microcourse, we’ll talk about what a conversation is, and in the CONVERSATION DESIGN microcourse, we’ll look at how you can design conversations.
 
And finally, in the CONVERSATION DESIGN TOOLS microcourse, we’ll look at Google Dialogflow, the tool we will use to create conversational AI that you will use in other courses.
 
SO, WHAT IS A CONVERSATION?
 
Funnily enough, there’s no one accepted definition of what a conversation is, apart from the idea that it’s two (or more) people talking together. (And of course, you can talk to yourself, which may also be a conversation).

We also tend to think about conversations as informal, not about any specific topic (think about the conversations you might have at dinner or when walking around the mall), and having no real purpose - beyond just chatting.

But there are many examples of talking where you might want to call it a conversation - even if it seems a bit different.  How about talking to your teacher about your progress in a course? How about when your parents come to parent-teacher meetings? How about if you have to have a difficult conversation with a friend about something you are upset or concerned about?  Are these conversations? Maybe, maybe not


So maybe we just say a conversation is two (or more) people talking together about a topic they want to discuss.
 
ARE THERE RULES OF CONVERSATION?
 
Think about it for a minute, and you should conclude that there are many rules of conversation.
 
For example, it would be weird if a conversation between you and your parents took place where you were wearing a snorkel and shouting in German while hanging upside down (although you may have done that).
 
Also, there are lots of things that would be considered breaking the rules of conversation.
 
Perhaps the most important rule is that when in a conversation, only one person speaks at once. Otherwise, it would be chaos. No one would understand anyone else.
 
Other rules concern what kind of things you expect to happen next in a conversation.
 
For example, if you say Hi, you might expect Hi, how are you? back.
 
Or if you ask a question like, What is your name? you can expect an answer something like I’m Hailey. What’s your name?
 
As a human, you know all of these rules because you have been learning them since you were small.
 
But as you will see in the CONVERSATION DESIGN microcourse, there are some differences between what people do in conversation with another person and what you need to do when designing a conversation between a person and an AI. Otherwise, the human in the conversation would find the whole thing strange.
THE SCIENCE OF CONVERSATION
There are many scientists, particularly psychologists, who study how the human mind works, and sociologists who study how society works, who have analysed the rules of conversation.
They have concluded that all conversations have rules, and the rules are mostly about helping people understand each other.
One well-known scientist, Paul Grice, developed something called the Cooperative Principle to describe how conversations work.
He said that the best conversations are ones where people talk cooperatively to try to understand each other.
He summed this up in four maxims (or rules):
  • People tell the truth and are clear about what they are saying (the quality of conversation)
  • They talk just the right amount - not too much and not too little (the right quantity)
  • They talk about things that matter to the current topic of conversation (they are relevant)
  • And in the right manner - speaking clearly and using obscure words or expressions.
We’ll see how Grice’s cooperative principle works for building conversations with AI in the CONVERSATION DESIGN microcourse.
Watch this video from the TV show The Big Bang Theory, which shows how it can be funny when Grice’s four maxims are broken.
For the moment, the most important thing to remember there are rules, and while breaking them might not be disastrous, it will certainly make having a conversation more difficult.
For the moment, the most important thing remember there are rules, and while breaking them might not be disastrous, it will certainly make having a conversation more difficult.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
 

 

Can you think of any more rules that apply to conversations?
 
What happens when you break a rule in a conversation, like talking at the same time as someone else?
 
If you’ve ever chatted with a chatbot, why is it so weird?
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