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Ask a Techspert: How do you build a chatbot?

Chatbots have become a normal part of daily life, from that helpful customer service pop-up on a website to the voice-controlled system in your home. As a conversational AI engineer at Google, Lee Boonstra knows everything about chatbots. When the pandemic started, many of the conferences she spoke at were canceled, which gave Lee the time…

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Chatbots have become a normal part of daily life, from that helpful customer service pop-up on a website to the voice-controlled system in your home. As a conversational AI engineer at Google, Lee Boonstra knows everything about chatbots. When the pandemic started, many of the conferences she spoke at were canceled, which gave Lee the time to put her knowledge into book form. She started writing while she was pregnant, and now, along with her daughter Rebel, she has this book: The Definitive Guide to Conversational AI With Dialogflow and Google Cloud

Lee, who lives and works in Amsterdam, is donating the proceeds of her royalties to Stichting Meer dan Gewenst, a nonprofit organization that helps people in the LGBTQ+ community who want to have children. The charity is close to her heart; as an LGBTQ+ parent herself, she wants others like her to have a chance at the joy she feels with her daughter. 

The book itself is for anyone interested in using chatbots, from developers to project managers and CEOs. Here she speaks to The Keyword about the art (and science) behind building a chatbot. 

What exactly is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a piece of software designed to simulate online conversations with people. Many people know chatbots as a chat window that appears when you open a website, but there are more forms — for instance, there are chatbots that answer questions via social media, and the voice of the Google Assistant is a chatbot. Chatbots have been around since the early computing days, but computers, they’ve only recently become more mainstream. That has everything to do with machine learning and natural language understanding. 

Old-school chatbots required you to formulate your sentences carefully. If you said things differently, the chatbot wouldn’t know how to answer. If you made a spelling mistake, the bot would run amok! But there are many different ways to say something. A chatbot built with natural language understanding can understand a specific piece of text and then retrieve a specific answer to your question. It doesn’t matter if you spell it wrong or say things differently. 

What benefits can the use of chatbots offer companies?
A chatbot works quickly, knows (almost) everything and is available 24/7. That basically makes it the ideal customer service representative. The customer no longer has to wait, the company saves money and the employees experience less stress. As a customer, you get a chatbot on the phone that listens to your question and can answer like a human thanks to speech technology. This way, most customers already receive the answers they need. If the chatbot doesn’t know the answer, it can transfer them to an employee. The customer will not be prompted for information again, as the agent will see that the chat history and system fields are already filled.

Companies are finding more and more ways to use chatbots. For example, since the advent of artificial intelligence, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been handling twice as many questions from customers via social media. And technical developer Doop built a Google Assistant Action in the Netherlands in collaboration with AVROTROS, specifically for the Eurovision Song Contest. Anyone who asks for information about the Eurovision Song Contest will hear a chatbot with the voice of presenter Cornald Maas talk about the show. 

How do you build a chatbot?
You can build a chatbot using the Dialogflow tool and other services on the Google Cloud platform. Dialogflow is a tool in your web browser that allows you to build chatbots by entering examples. For example, if you already have a FAQ section on your website, that’s a good start. With Dialogflow you can edit the content of that Q&A and then train the chatbot to find answers to questions that customers often ask. Dialogflow learns from all the conversation examples so that it can provide answers.

But just like building a website, you probably need more resources, such as a place to host your chatbot and a database to store your data. You may also want to use additional machine learning models so that your chatbot can do things like detect the content of a PDF or the sentiment of a text. Google Cloud has more than 200 products available for this. It’s just like playing with blocks: by stacking all these resources on top of each other, you build a product and you improve the experience, for yourself and for the customer.

Do you have any tips for getting started?
First things first: Start building the chatbot as soon as possible. Many people dread this, because they think it’s hugely complex, but it’s better to just get going. You will need to keep track of the conversations and keep an eye on the statistics; what do customers ask and what do they expect? Building a chatbot is an ongoing project. The longer a chatbot lasts, the more data is collected and the smarter and faster it becomes. 

In addition, don’t build a chatbot just for one specific channel. What you don’t want is to have to build a chatbot for another channel next year and replicate the work. In a large company, teams often want to build a chatbot, but different chat channels are important to different departments. As a company you want to be present on all of those channels, whether that’s the website, on social media, via telephone or on Whatsapp. Build an integrated bot so there’s no duplication of work and maintenance is much easier. 

How do chatbots make life easier for people?
Many of the frustrations that you experience with traditional customer services, such as limited opening hours for contact by phone, waiting times and incomprehensible menus, can be removed with chatbots. People do find it important to know whether they are interacting with a human being or a chatbot, but, interestingly, a chatbot is more likely to be forgiven for making a mistake than a human. People might also have a specific preference for human interaction or a chatbot when discussing more sensitive topics like medical or financial issues, either because they want to have personal, human contact or they would rather not discuss a topic with a human being because they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Chatbots are getting better and better at understanding and interacting, and can be very helpful for interactions about these topics as well. 

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Enjoy a warm cup of trends for International Tea Day

From bubble tea to tea ceremonies, tea has deep roots and profound cultural significance across Asia. Just ahead of the United Nations’ International Tea Day on Saturday, May 21, we looked at trends on Google Search around the world and found bags of insights into what the world is searching for when it comes to…

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From bubble tea to tea ceremonies, tea has deep roots and profound cultural significance across Asia. Just ahead of the United Nations’ International Tea Day on Saturday, May 21, we looked at trends on Google Search around the world and found bags of insights into what the world is searching for when it comes to this brew-tea-full beverage.

Worldwide populari-tea

Assam, green or bubble: tea is the world’s most-consumed drink apart from water, so even if Earl Grey isn’t your thing, there’s most likely a brew out there that fits you to a T. But which types of tea are the most popular?

  1. Bubble tea
  2. Green tea
  3. Matcha
  4. Black tea
  5. Milk tea
  6. Kombucha
  7. Masala chai
  8. Iced tea
  9. Hibiscus tea
  10. Ginger tea

Worldwide top-searched types of tea, past 12 months. Source: Google Trends.

Green tea used to be the most popular type of tea on Search — until last year, when bubble tea bubbled up to become the most-searched type of tea around the world. The rise has been remarkable, with search interest for bubble tea more than tripling in the last five years, an increase of +220% worldwide. We’ve seen a similar trend with matcha; the beverage is now the world’s third most popular type of tea after search interest went up by +70% in the last five years.

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Protecting Android users from 0-Day attacks

To protect our users, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) routinely hunts for 0-day vulnerabilities exploited in-the-wild. In 2021, we reported nine 0-days affecting Chrome, Android, Apple and Microsoft, leading to patches to protect users from these attacks.This blog is a follow up to our July 2021 post on four 0-day vulnerabilities we discovered in 2021,…

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To protect our users, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) routinely hunts for 0-day vulnerabilities exploited in-the-wild. In 2021, we reported nine 0-days affecting Chrome, Android, Apple and Microsoft, leading to patches to protect users from these attacks.

This blog is a follow up to our July 2021 post on four 0-day vulnerabilities we discovered in 2021, and details campaigns targeting Android users with five distinct 0-day vulnerabilities:

We assess with high confidence that these exploits were packaged by a single commercial surveillance company, Cytrox, and sold to different government-backed actors who used them in at least the three campaigns discussed below. Consistent with findings from CitizenLab, we assess government-backed actors purchasing these exploits are located (at least) in Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire, Serbia, Spain and Indonesia.

The 0-day exploits were used alongside n-day exploits as the developers took advantage of the time difference between when some critical bugs were patched but not flagged as security issues and when these patches were fully deployed across the Android ecosystem. Our findings underscore the extent to which commercial surveillance vendors have proliferated capabilities historically only used by governments with the technical expertise to develop and operationalize exploits.

Seven of the nine 0-days TAG discovered in 2021 fall into this category: developed by commercial providers and sold to and used by government-backed actors. TAG is actively tracking more than 30 vendors with varying levels of sophistication and public exposure selling exploits or surveillance capabilities to government-backed actors.

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Why this Pixel engineer chose Google Taiwan

Welcome to the latest edition of “My Path to Google,” where we talk to Googlers, interns, apprentices and alumni about how they got to Google, what their roles are like and even some tips on how to prepare for interviews.Today’s post is all about Gordon Kuo, a Taiwan-based engineer on the Pixel Mobile Wireless Team.…

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Welcome to the latest edition of “My Path to Google,” where we talk to Googlers, interns, apprentices and alumni about how they got to Google, what their roles are like and even some tips on how to prepare for interviews.

Today’s post is all about Gordon Kuo, a Taiwan-based engineer on the Pixel Mobile Wireless Team. He shares what makes Google Taiwan a unique place for engineers to work and advice for anyone interested in applying to Google.

What’s your role at Google?

I’m an engineering lead on the Pixel Mobile Wireless team. Our goal is to help connect people across the world with Google Pixel phones. We solve hardware and software challenges and work with different teams to improve functionality and performance. We talk about everything from design and bug fixes to performance optimization, which makes every day feel different. I love that no matter what we’re working on, it’s always interesting and helpful.

How did you land in your current role?

After completing my PhD in Computer Networking, I started my career at a Taiwanese integrated circuit (IC) design company. After that, I worked on modems at a technology company in China for several years. During that time, I had a few friends and former colleagues at Google, and when we spoke about their jobs and the company culture, everyone shared really positive experiences. Getting the chance to build a career around work that I enjoy was one of the biggest draws. So I applied and interviewed — and now, two years in, I’m leading a team.

What was your application and interview experience like?

Above everything, my recruiter was really supportive, which helped make the process feel much more straightforward. I actually applied and interviewed for another engineering position at first, but I didn’t end up getting it. I was disappointed at the time, but it wasn’t long before my recruiter shared another position that was even more aligned with my skills and career goals. Finding the right fit doesn’t always happen right away, and I appreciated that my recruiter was so committed to setting me up for success.

What have you learned about leadership since joining Google?

Google is a place where people truly listen and communicate openly. Because of this, I’ve learned to never assume anything. Instead, I put in the time to better understand my team and others we work with. It’s important to stay on the same page when you’re leading a team or project, and that requires respect and regular communication.

What makes Google Taiwan such a special place to work?

Taiwan is home to world-class integrated circuit design companies and is known for its thriving manufacturing industry. There’s a lot of exciting product development work happening here too, and it’s one of our largest sites in Asia. In fact, Taiwan is our largest hardware hub outside of the U.S. — with an engineering team that is uniquely skilled in both software and hardware integration. We collaborate with other functions and teams worldwide, and have opportunities to lead important projects from start to finish. From working on widely used products to building and leading a team, I’ve had growth opportunities here that I couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. I’m continually inspired by the work we do.

On a more personal note, Taiwan is a relatively small island, easy to get around and nestled between the beach and the mountains — it’s a pretty nice place to work!

You recently participated in a live-streamed event about career opportunities at Google Taiwan. Can you tell us more about that?

The event was aimed at helping potential candidates learn more about technical career opportunities at Google Taiwan and what it’s like to work with us. I really enjoyed the conversation! If anyone is interested, they can watch the recording.

What advice do you have for aspiring Googlers?

Work closely with your recruiter! My recruiter guided me through Google’s interview process, shared tips about how to answer leadership-based questions and gave me insight into what the technical interview would be like. I hadn’t experienced this kind of interview support and care before, and it went a long way in helping me prepare. If you’re applying for an engineering role, I recommend doing programming exercises to practice your coding abilities. I also revisited my textbooks to review material, brushed up on my skills and searched for tips online from previous interviewees. Going through an interview process can be nerve-wracking, but the best thing you can do is just go for it.

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