Meet Anamita Guha, product manager for IBM Watson and an expert in all things chatbots

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Anamita! Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and your new course for IBM?

At IBM Watson Developer Labs & AR/VR Labs, I am a product manager building tools for developers with a specific focus on conversational interfaces: chatbots, voicebots, IoT, and conversations in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR). I work with a team of product managers and engineers that are strategically creating the next generation of IBM products, platforms, and experiences that developers love. In my role, I recently helped launch IBM’s first Hero Journey module, Chatbots for Good: Introduction to empathetic chatbot. It’s a free cloud-based learning experience where anyone — even those with no prior bot development experience — can use Watson Conversation and Tone Analyzer services to design, test, and build a chatbot. My goal is to expose the course to as many individuals as possible, so that they develop a solid foundation to start building chatbots with Watson to help solve problems of the world.

We’re seeing a rise in chatbot creation right now, which is not without its challenges. For you, what makes a successful chatbot and what is the most important thing to keep in mind when developing one?

The best chatbots sound and read human. People still want human-to-human interaction, so the more you can make your chatbot engage in a conversation in a personalized way, the better. It is also important that the chatbot is created to understand its audience and how they speak, so it comes across as more natural.

For example, Georgia Tech’s teaching assistant chatbot, Jill Watson, built on IBM’s Watson Platform, learned from dozens of conversations with graduate students. With four semesters worth of data and 40,000 questions and answers as its backbone, the bot read forums and studied how the students used inside jokes and jargon in conversation. Eventually, the bot filtered these jokes into the conversation. By the end of the semester, students thought Jill Watson was an actual person, not a chatbot.

What piece of advice would you offer to women looking to start their STEM careers right now?

Just start! I would encourage all women to muster up the courage and take the initiative to learn more about a topic of interest through research and discussions with people in those areas. Finding a mentor or role model in your area(s) of exploration is also incredibly important. I’m a firm believer that “you can’t be what you can’t see” — so seek out someone you look up to and ask them questions about their journey. If you can’t find a role model in that field, then that should give you even more willpower to just start, so you can be that person for the next generation of girls.