This article is part of the Watson Assistant learning path. See the Watson Assistant page for more information on features and getting started.

Overview

With IBM Watson Assistant, you can build conversational interfaces into any application, device, or channel. Most virtual assistants try to mimic human interactions, but Watson Assistant is more. Watson Assistant knows when to search for an answer from a knowledge base, when to ask for clarity, and when to direct you to a human. The following video gives a high-level overview of the Watson Assistant service.

This article is the first part of a learning path that helps you gain a better understanding about how Watson Assistant works, and how you can integrate it with other applications to build your own virtual assistant.

Why use Watson Assistant?

Virtual assistants, or chatbots, go far beyond the gimmicky approach that they are often associated with. You can use bots to set appointments, call a car, and so on. It’s not a replacement for search. Amazon Echo and Google Home are excellent examples of virtual assistants. There is no interface, so having a well-structured dialog to talk through is essential.

A couple of instances of where Watson Assistant excels are customer self-service and employee self-service. Watson Assistant:

  • Integrates directly with end-channels such as Slack or Facebook Messenger so that you can handle requests wherever it is most convenient for your users
  • Knows when to provide a direct answer to a common question or reference more generalized search results for something more complex
  • Stores data within user interactions that can be used to guide and personalize the experience over time
  • Hands off the issue to a human agent when it’s something the virtual assistant can’t handle

Architecture

The following figure shows Watson Assistant architecture that’s common for all implementations. In this architecture:

  • Users interact with the assistant through one or more of these integration points:

    • A virtual assistant that you publish directly to an existing social media messaging platform, such as Slack or Facebook Messenger.

    • A custom application that you develop, such as a mobile app or a robot with a voice interface.

  • The assistant receives user input and routes it to the dialog skill.

  • The dialog skill interprets the user input further, then directs the flow of the conversation. The dialog gathers any information it needs to respond or perform a transaction on the user’s behalf.

  • Any questions that cannot be answered by the dialog skill are sent to the search skill, which finds relevant answers by searching the company knowledge bases that you configure for the purpose.

Assistant architecture

A typical approach used when deploying Watson Assistant

Terms

This section covers the terms that you need to know as you follow the learning path to use Watson Assistant in your applications.

Term Definition
Skills A container for the artificial intelligence that enables an assistant to help your customers.
Assistant Directs requests down the optimal path for solving a customer problem. Add skills so that your assistant can provide a direct answer to a common question or reference more generalized search results for something more complex.
Dialog Defines what your assistant says in response to customers, based on what it believes the customer wants. The dialog flow is represented graphically in the tool as a tree.
Intents A goal that you anticipate your users will have when they interact with your assistant. For example, you might define an intent that is named store_hours that answers questions about store hours.
Entities A term or object that provides context for an intent. For example, an entity might be a city name that helps your dialog to distinguish which store the user wants to know store hours for.
Content Catalog An easy way to add common intents to your Watson Assistant dialog.

Where is Watson Assistant available?

Watson Assistant is available in both the public and private cloud.

SDKs

There are several SDKs available that support the various AI services. They are not limited to the following list.

APIs

The Watson Assistant V1 API is available to help you get started, but we recommend using the Watson Assistant V2 API with your apps.

Conclusion

This article is the first part of a learning path that guides you through the deployment of the Watson Assistant service and using included tools for creating intents, entities, and integrations with other applications. To get a high-level look at Watson Assistant including features and pricing, see the Watson Assistant product page. To continue with the learning path, take a look at the next step in the process, Create your first Assistant-powered chatbot.