[FIELD NOTES] MN Bot Makers November Meetup: Chatbot Show & Tell

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The topic for the monthly MN Bot Makers Meetup in November was Chatbot Show & Tell, encouraging members to share their bots and the methods behind their development.  Bot makers gathered for the first time at Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange in St. Paul to show off creations old and new.

The first presenter was monthly host Eli Krumholz, demonstrating above the bot behind Raisable, a local startup that builds a crowdfunding campaign through a Facebook Messenger conversation. It features a relatively simple chat structure, requiring little in the way of complicated branching. Much of the work was completed using Facebook’s built-in quick reply buttons, putting together written text, video, and pictures to create a crowdfunding campaign video and copy.

 

Randy LaFoy followed up with a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities chatbot. An employee at Century College, LaFoy entered and won a Shark Tank-style competition, earning a $25,000 grant to create a product for the system. He hired students to assist with the development and research, exploring over 2,500 chat experiences between students and staff. The aim was to create a bot that can answer questions, provide forms, and remind students about upcoming deadlines.

Next was TalkLike by Scott Schalke, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. Fascinated by linguistics, he wanted to create a chat experience that sounded like a recognizable person. He chose Donald Trump as his first subject, identifying “sentiment thresholds” within Trump’s speech patterns–either very flowery or very derogatory. Natural language processing powered by spaCy determines “dialogue acts,” identifying questions and statements. Users compose a short sentence that is reworked into a surprisingly convincing Trump tweet.

 

The third presenter of the evening was Steve Morman, an Agile coach at Cargill. He needed a tool that enabled him to more easily complete tasks within version control software, so he created CloudBot. His bot is relatively simple to use, requiring very little natural language processing. Users enter a command like “Cloudbot, unsuspend ‘User’ from GitHub” and the bot sends the command to GitHub so a user can continue work. It requires a little bit of syntax knowhow, but Morman describes it as an extension of the command line. Morman built CloudBot using Lita and Sinatra with the Facade API.

The final presenter was Marty Wetherall, a marketing expert who worked with Fallon to create a chat experience for Arby’s. The restaurant chain wanted to promote their Pizza Slider and saw an opportunity to enter the tech competition between giants Domino’s and Pizza Hut. The result was a Facebook Messenger that was essentially useless. Users could talk to the bot, but its responses wouldn’t order them food, direct them to the nearest Arby’s, or give them menu options. Wetherall offered to include those services, but Arby’s insisted that the bot remain useless.

The MN Bot Makers Meetup takes place the fourth Tuesday of every month from 6:30 to 8:30 at Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange in St. Paul.

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