Your Chatbot Must Be Able To Disambiguate

Disambiguation Is Part & Parcel Of Human Conversations And Should Be Part Of Your Chatbot Experience

Cobus Greyling
5 min readFeb 11, 2020



By now we all know that the prime aim of a chatbot is to act as a conversational interface, simulating the conversations we have as humans. Unfortunately you will find that many of the basic elements of human conversation are not introduced to most chatbots.

A good example of this is digression…and another is disambiguation. Often throughout a conversation we as humans will invariably and intuitively detect ambiguity.

Ambiguity is when we hear something which is said, which is open for more than one interpretation. Instead of just going off on a tangent which is not intended by the utterance, I perform the act of disambiguation; by asking a follow-up question. This is simply put, removing ambiguity from a statement or dialog.

Ambiguity makes sentences confusing. For example, “I saw my friend John with binoculars”. This this mean John was carrying a pair of binoculars? Or, I could only see John by using a pair of binoculars?

Hence, I need to perform disambiguation, and ask for clarification. A chatbot encounters the same issue, where the user’s utterance is ambiguous and instead of the chatbot going off on one assumed intent, it could ask the user to clarify their input. The chatbot can present a few options based on a certain context; this can be used by the user to select and confirm the most appropriate option.

Just to illustrate how effective we as humans are to disambiguate and detect subtle nuances, have a look at the following two sentences:

  • A drop of water on my mobile phone.
  • I drop my mobile phone in the water.

These two sentences have vastly different meanings, and compared to each other there is no…



Cobus Greyling

I explore and write about all things at the intersection of AI and language; NLP/NLU/LLM, Chat/Voicebots, CCAI.