IL2012: Artificial Intelligence Transforming Reference

Deeann Allison and Lorna Dawes spoke to us this afternoon about Pixel a chatbot that is used at the University of Nebraska.

First, what is a chatbot? It’s a software application that designed to emulate conversations with human beings. It’s frequently text based, but it can include sound and visual effects. The software is usually developed on top of a database so that the bot can match metadata from questions to the data in the database to “answer” questions. Some places you can get chatbots : Pandorabots and Program O (this is the one Pixel uses).

Emma and Stella are two other examples of library chatbots that are out there.

The chatbot is handy because it’s safe – so people don’t worry about their question being stupid and it still answers in regular language. With Pixel they pull info from the library site (hours and directions), the librarians, and they train Pixel by going in to the back end to review questions that she didn’t answer that well.

Pixel has over 84,000 categories (a single piece of information or bit of knowledge) in her database and she knows 214 spelling variations (this needs to get better/more thorough). According to Google Analytics the average visit duration with Pixel is 5:53 minutes whereas visitor spend less than 4 minutes with the catalog.

Chatbots require lots of set up in how they understand questions. For example if you want Pixel to find info on recycling you need to tell her to look for three variations (* is a wildcard) ‘Recycling’ (for if someone puts in a keyword only), ‘* Recycling’ (finds ‘what do you know about recycling’), or ‘* Recycling *’ (finds ‘what do you know about recycling cans?’).

Pixel has trouble with very detailed questions. I also did a little test to find open source software information at the library and it took me several tries to get the question right. Pixel kept asking if I wanted to know about her source code. One concern at the library was that Pixel would replace them, based on my little Q&A session with her I don’t think you need to worry about that. I think that pixel is great for handling the easy stuff like “I want books on XYZ” and general info. A human would have gotten me an answer in one step instead of the 6 or 7 it took. (Click the images below to see my chat with Pixel).

I played with Pixel for a while to hopefully help the librarians teach Pixel more about open source 🙂

What Pixel is is an advanced search tool. Students like to use Pixel to find things on the library website because the site is so dense.

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