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Designing Bots, 1st Edition by Amir Shevat

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Chapter 10. Context and Memory

Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us.

OSCAR WILDE

MEMORY AND CONTEXT ARE a natural part of every human conversation. We have an implied understanding that our counterpart in the conversation remembers what we said a minute ago, or that they know that we are now talking about cars, or that they have an understanding of the thread of thoughts tied into a conversation. All of this is trivial for the human mind, but extremely hard for software.

Bot Amnesia

Here is an example of how bots fail in this simple task. Figure 10-1 is a humoristic gift that was given to every participant in a bot event in Europe this year. It symbolized the main problem that bot conversation faces today.

Bots often have trouble maintaining context
Figure 10-1. Bots often have trouble maintaining context

Many bots today focus on a request/response paradigm. In this paradigm each request has a new context, and all past contexts are forgotten. Some bots do a better job of maintaining context than others—for example, the Google Assistant bot isn’t bad (Figure 10-2).

Google Assistant does a decent job of following the thread of a conversation...
Figure 10-2. Google Assistant does a decent job of following the thread of a conversation...

As you can see, the user in this example uses words like “his wife” and “their kids.” For us humans, it is trivial to understand that “his wife” refers to Barack ...

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