A while back, the National University of Singapore (NUS) sent out an email to students looking for someone to develop their Chat Bot for a derisory S$1,000.
If you think this is a lot of money, think again. Tech website VentureBeat estimates the going rate to create one is US$5,000-10,000. So two undergraduate Computer Science students decided to do it for free.
*As per their request for anonymity, we will not be identifying the creators by name.
The NUS Chatbot
It all started out when the NUS School of Computing Corporate Relations office sent out this email blast to its students.
Here is the link to the chatbot.
The chatbot has a very sparse, utilitarian design, and serves a singular purpose – to answer questions related to course information.
According to one of the creators, they were both already equipped with the necessary background and knowledge in working with the cloud. As of the moment, the chatbot serves just the bare minimum, and when I tried testing out different questions, the chatbot was unable to help me.
However, considering that the students had spent just 24h to set up the system, the website already reads like an impressive effort.
According to one of the creators, a main obstacle they encountered was NUS’ lack of available data to the public.
Students such as themselves are able to access IVLE, the schools learning management system.
However, the chatbot had to cater for prospective students not yet registered with NUS. As such, their solution was to link to a publicly accessible part of IVLE so that interested users could find out more about course registration.
Why They Did It
“We’d just heard about Chat Bots and were pretty interested in making one, so this presented a pretty good learning opportunity. Seems to be all the rage now, with NTU students making their own too!”
When the guys saw the school email, both felt that compared to what the going rate was for chatbots, what the office had offered was a paltry sum.
One of the creators also noted that chatbots appear to be all the rage now, with even the government getting in on the action. He cites another excellent chatbot – Bus Uncle, and the Microsoft Bot Framework. Using the latter along with LUIS, a language comprehension service, anyone could create their very own Jarvis.
Just like how Zuckerberg had created his.
The student reflects that there is no lack of available platforms and frameworks, “so it’s really easy to get started”.
The NUS chatbot was the result of a spur-of-the-moment decision to spend a single day developing one. He describes the decision as being “unsolicited“, but their underlying motivations tended towards testing their own abilities.
The main aim was to see how fast they could get a chatbot running as per the school’s requirements.
The creator shares that neither he nor his teammate has gone back to the chatbot since, but they are not against further developing it if they find the right motivations or ideas.
He reflects on how the potential for technology is no longer like it was in the past, and the ability to create an interactive experience indistinguishable from interaction with an actual human is now plausible.
At the end of the day, he and his teammate has enjoyed working on their side project, and calls it “a really good learning experience”.
“This hands-on journey is truly the way to discover and learn new technologies and sometimes it’s true that exposure is worth more than the reward – which we’ll pass on.”
Featured Image Credit: Duke-NUS, NUS chatbot