Customer service chatbots may finally become more intelligent, more conversational and more helpful. By Steve Lohr.

Some household gadget is misbehaving and you need help. Or you have a question about travel arrangements or insurance coverage. You go to the company’s website and a digital imp pops up in a small text window. “How can I help you?” it asks. Or you call a customer service number and a chirpy automaton asks the same thing.

Gamely, you go ahead, typing or telling the chatbot what you want. Its formulaic replies . . .

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