functional programming, permaculture, math

How To Design A Chat Bot


I'm working on a library for designing highly composable protocol agnostic chat bots. The design is based on Mealy machines and heavily leverages Haskell's profunctor machinery. I want to walk through the early stages of the design process and how you might arrive at such an architecture.

What is a Chat Bot?

Lets start by describing what we mean by a chat bot, then lets factor out as much as possible until we arrive at a precise, elegant abstraction.

A chat bot is some persistent application that reads and produces messages over a messaging protocol. Bots can optionally hold internal state which they update via incoming messages and which they use to produce outgoing messages.

Bots can also optionally perform side effects out of band from the chat protocol. For example, a bot might execute an HTTP request and then return the result in band through the chat protocol.

So a chat bot holds state, sends and receives messages over a chat protocol, and can potentially perform out of band effects.

Now lets try to describe these actions more formally. We know the bot must receieve input to produce an output and, if it is stateful, produce a new state. We can describe this with a record of functions:

data Bot state input output = Bot
  { receive :: input -> state -> state
  , respond :: input -> state -> output

receive describes the act of updating the internal state from an input and respond describes producing an output. We are still missing the ability to perform out of band effects. We can describe this by inscribing our outputs with an m:

data Bot m state input output = Bot
  { receive :: input -> state -> m state
  , respond :: input -> state -> m output

At first blush this looks promising. We have the ability to update an internal state, to emit responses, and to perform out of band effects. However, does this fully describe the behavior of a bot?

We can update our state and we can produce output, but can we use our updated state to produce the output? Sadly the answer is no.

Lets try again:

newtype Bot m s i o = Bot { runBot :: i -> s -> m (s, o) }

Now we have a single function which can update state and produce an output in a single operation. This gives us what we want.

Exploring Our Type

Now that we have our bot type, lets explore it a bit. We can see that it receives an i and an s and it produces an s and an o. This means that it is Contravariant over i, Covariant over o, and Invariant over s. This tells us that our Bot is a Functor, a Profunctor, and an Invariant Functor. If it were Covariant on both i and o then it would be a Bifunctor rather then a Profunctor.

instance Functor m => Functor (Bot m s i) where
  fmap :: (o -> o') -> Bot m s i o -> Bot m s i o'
  fmap f (Bot bot) = Bot $ \i s -> fmap (fmap f) $ bot i s
instance Functor m => Profunctor (Bot m s) where
  dimap :: (i' -> i) -> (o -> o') -> Bot m s i o -> Bot m s i' o'
  dimap f g (Bot bot) = Bot $ \a -> fmap (fmap g) . bot (f a)

The order of type parameters doesn't allow the actual Invariant typeclass, but we can define invmap:

invmap :: Functor m => (s -> s') -> (s' -> s) -> Bot m s i o -> Bot m s' i o
invmap f g (Bot b) = Bot $ \i s -> (b i (g s)) <&> bimap f id

Since Bot is a Profunctor, lets take look at some other related structures:

class Profunctor p => Strong p where
  first' :: p a b  -> p (a, c) (b, c)
  second' :: p a b -> p (c, a) (c, b)

class Profunctor p => Choice p where
  left' :: p a b  -> p (Either a c) (Either b c)
  right' :: p a b -> p (Either c a) (Either c b)

Strong describes a Profunctor where you can use a product to 'thread' an additional parameter through the Profunctor. Choice describes the same property with respect to co-products.

It turns out Bot satisifies both:

instance Functor m => Strong (Bot m s) where
  first' :: Bot m s i o -> Bot m s (i, c) (o, c)
  first' (Bot bot) = Bot $ \(a, c) -> fmap (fmap (, c)) . bot a

instance Applicative m => Choice (Bot m s) where
  left' :: Bot m s i o -> Bot m s (Either i x) (Either o x)
  left' (Bot bot) = Bot $ \i s ->
    case i of
    Left a -> fmap (fmap Left) $ bot a s
    Right c -> pure (s, Right c)

Another structure we might try is Category:

instance Monad m => Category (Bot m s) where
  id :: Bot m s i i
  id = Bot $ \i s -> pure (s, i)

  (.) :: Bot m s b c -> Bot m s a b -> Bot m s a c
  (.) (Bot bot1) (Bot bot2) = Bot $ \a s -> do
    (s', b) <- bot2 a s
    bot1 b s'

The fact that we have Strong and Category means we also have Arrow:

instance Monad m => Arrow (Bot m s) where
  arr f = fmap f id
  first = first'

We will try to sort out the use of some of these structures later on. For now, it is a great sign that our spec fits so many well defined structures.

Constructing Bots

Lets move on to building some bots. As we go along, we might discover interesting uses for the structures defined previously.

We start with the simplest bot. Eg., one which receives and produces Text and operates with no state or monadic effects:

simplestBot :: Bot Identity () Text Text
simplestBot = Bot $ \i s -> pure (s, "Hello, " <> i)

This bot will respond to all messages with a fixed response.

We can simplify the construction of other pure, stateless bots with a new combinator:

pureStatelessBot :: Applicative m => (i -> o) -> Bot m s i o
pureStatelessBot f = Bot $ \i s -> pure (s, f i)

Given a Monad constraint on m (arising from our Category instance), then pureStatelessBot is arr from Arrow:

pureStatelessBot' :: Monad m => (i -> o) -> Bot m s i o
pureStatelessBot' = arr

We can also construct effectful bots, such as one which performs random number generation in IO:

coinFlipBot :: Bot IO () () Bool
coinFlipBot = Bot $ \_ s -> do
  gen <- newStdGen
  let (result, _) = random @Bool gen
  pure (s, result)

And of course, we could build a stateful bot:

todoBot :: Applicative m => Bot m [T.Text] T.Text T.Text
todoBot = Bot $ \i s ->
  case T.uncons i of
    Just ('>', todo) -> pure (todo:s, "Recorded todo!")
    Just ('<', _) | length s == 0 -> pure (s, "No more todos!")
    Just ('<', _) -> pure (tail s, head s)
    _ -> pure (s, "I didn't understand that.")

Notice that all of these bots must return a response regardless of the input. This is something we will need to address shortly.


Now that we have a few bots, we need some way to run them.

We can write a simple REPL-like bot interpreter. This will be a function which receives a Bot IO s Text Text and produces a long lived IO action that applies STDIN as input to the Bot and prints the Bot's output to STDOUT.

runReplBot :: forall s. Bot IO s Text Text -> s -> IO ()
runReplBot bot = go
    go :: s -> IO ()
    go state = do
  putStr "> "
  hFlush stdout
  input <- fmap T.pack $ getLine
  result <- try @SomeException $ runBot bot input state
  case result of
    Left _ -> go state
    Right (nextState, output) -> do
      putStrLn $ T.unpack output
      go nextState

Note: This interpreter will only work with Bots polymorphic on m or where m ~ IO. A more general replBot would have the signature: forall m s. (MonadCatch m, MonadIO m) => Bot m s Text Text -> s -> m ().

We use try to capture exceptions as an Either value which we ignore when recursing. This will make more sense later on.

Interpreters for arbitrary network protocols can be be written in the same fashion. Choose appropriate input and output types for resolving calls to your protocol of choice's API and then call out to your API from an IO block.

We can use runReplBot to test out simplestBot:

ghci> runReplBot simplestBot ()
> World
Hello, World

However, we still cannot run coinFlipBot. We require a Bot IO s Text Text and coinFlipBot is Bot IO s () Bool.

To match it up with runReplBot, we need a way to map Text -> () for the input and Bool -> Text for the output. It turns out this is precisely what Profunctor gives us!

coinFlipBot' :: Bot IO () Text Text
coinFlipBot' = dimap (const ()) (T.pack . show) coinFlipBot

One way to look at the behavior of coinFlipBot' is that it focuses on a smaller input () inside of a larger structure Text and then embeds a smaller output (Bool) inside a larger structure Text.

Another way to say that is we have parsed out of Text to pick a () and pretty printed into Text to embed a Bool.

Our work identifying algebraic structures is already paying off.

Conditional Responses

Now we have defined a few simple bots and demonstrated how to interpret them in a REPL-like environment. We still have an unsolved problem, these bots are rather talkative. They must responsd to all input they receieve. We need to sort out a way for bots to conditionally produce output.

Our first thought might be to change our Bot type to either of:

newtype Bot m s i o = Bot { runBot :: i -> s -> m (Maybe (s, o)) }
newtype Bot m s i o = Bot { runBot :: i -> s -> m [(s, o)] }

However, both of those can break some desirable composition behavior. Another option could be ListT from MTL, but it has some problems. The correct solution would be to use a Streaming library–which is what we do in the library that inspired this blog post. The solution we have chosen for expediance here is to leverage Alternative.

With IO's Alternative, we can use empty to throw an exception which we catch in our interpreter. The exception handling is already included in runReplBot. Bots which don't specify a concrete Monad will get interpreted into IO and throw an exception when called from runReplBot.

Lets see how this would work with coinFlipBot:

coinFlipBot' :: Bot IO () Text Text
coinFlipBot' = Bot $ \i s ->
  if i == "flip a coin"
    then fmap (fmap (T.pack . show)) $ (runBot coinFlipBot) () s 
    else empty

We can no longer use dimap because our focus operation is not pure due to our use of empty.

We can, however, define a new combinator lmapMaybe to generalize over the optionality we just introduced and peel it out of coinFlipBot':

lmapMaybe :: Alternative m => (i' -> Maybe i) -> Bot m s i o -> Bot m s i' o
lmapMaybe f (Bot bot) = Bot $ \i' s ->
  case f i' of
    Nothing -> empty
    Just i -> bot i s

coinFlipBot' :: Bot IO () Text Text
coinFlipBot' = lmapMaybe parse $ fmap prettyPrint coinFlipBot
    parse i = if i == "flip a coin" then Just () else Nothing
    prettyPrint = (T.pack . show)

What we are seeing in coinFlipBot' is contravariant and covariant mappings of our input and output to focus and embed structures respectively. In the contravariant case we are using a special variation of lmap which leverages Alternative to produce optional outputs.


Our goal now is to take two bots and 'laterally' compose them together to combine their behaviors. At the type level, what this looks like is combining each of the three type parameters of our Bots with some binary associative type constructors:

_ :: Bot m s i o -> Bot m s' i' o' -> Bot m (t1 s s') (t2 i i') (t3 o o')

For example, we could use (,) in all three positions:

_ :: Bot m s i o -> Bot m s' i' o' -> Bot m (s, s') (i, i') (o, o')

This would give us a single bot which given a combined input (i, i') will perform the behaviors of both our original bots and give a combined output (o, o').

What we want is a way to conditionally run either of the two bots based on the input we receive. This indicates that we want to use Either for i and o. However, we don't want to use Either for our state s. Instead we should use (,) to ensure that regardless of which bot we choose to execute, we have it's required state available.

We call this combinator \/:

infixr \/
(\/) :: Bot m s i o -> Bot m s' i' o' -> Bot m (s, s') (Either i i') (Either o o')

As one might expect from a 'lateral composition' operator, it is associative up to reshufflings of the binary type constructors. \/ (in uncurried form) is described by the Semigroupal typeclass from the monoidal-functors library.

-- Data.Functor.Monoidal
class (Associative t1 cat, Associative t0 cat) => Semigroupal cat t1 t0 f where
  combine :: (f x `t0` f x') `cat` f (x `t1` x') 

-- Data.Bifunctor.Monoidal
class (Associative t1 cat, Associative t2 cat, Associative to cat) => Semigroupal cat t1 t2 to f where
  combine :: cat (to (f x y) (f x' y')) (f (t1 x x') (t2 y y')) 

-- Data.Trifunctor.Monoidal
class (Associative t1 cat, Associative t2 cat, Associative t3 cat, Associative to cat) => Semigroupal cat t1 t2 t3 to f where
  combine :: to (f x y z) (f x' y' z') `cat` f (t1 x x') (t2 y y') (t3 z z') 

We have 3 type constructors we wish to monoidally combine (s, i, and o) so we choose the Data.Trifunctor.Monoidal.Semigroupal class:

instance Functor m => Semigroupal (->) (,) Either Either (,) (Bot m) where
  combine :: (Bot m s i o, Bot m s' i' o') -> Bot m (s, s') (Either i i') (Either o o')
  combine (Bot bot, Bot bot') = Bot $ \ei (s, s') ->
    case ei of
    Left i -> fmap (bimap (,s') Left) $ bot i s
    Right i' -> fmap (bimap (s,) Right) $ bot' i' s'

infixr \/
(\/) :: Functor m => Bot m s i o -> Bot m s' i' o' -> Bot m (s, s') (Either i i') (Either o o')
(\/) = curry combine

Now we can use \/ to compose a few bots:

coinFlipBot :: Bot IO () () Bool
coinFlipBot = Bot $ \_ s -> do
  result <- randomIO
  pure (s, result)

diceRollBot :: Bot IO () () Int
diceRollBot = Bot $ \i s -> do
  result <- randomRIO (1, 6)
  pure (s, result)

sumBot :: Bot IO ((), ()) (Either () ()) (Either Int Bool)
sumBot = diceRollBot \/ coinFlipBot

sumBot will execute a dice roll if it receives a Left () or a coin flip if it receives a Right (). We can then use lmapMaybe and a few other tools to produce an approprate parser and pretty printer:

sumBot' :: Bot IO ((), ()) Text Text
sumBot' = (lmapMaybe parse) $ fmap prettyPrint sumBot
    parse :: Text -> Maybe (Either () ())
    parse "roll a die" = pure $ Left ()
    parse "flip a coin" = pure $ Right ()
    parse _ = empty

    prettyPrint :: Either Int Bool -> Text
    prettyPrint = indistinct . bimap (T.pack . show) (T.pack .show)

    indistinct :: Either a a -> a
    indistinct = either id id
ghci> runReplBot sumBot' ((), ())
> flip a coin
> roll a die
> x


At this point we can build bot behaviors around arbitrary inputs and outputs, combine behaviors to produce composite bots, and interpret them in arbitrary protocols. Lets explore a few other interesting ways of transforming a Bot.

If we look at the kind of Bot we see:

type KBot = (Type -> Type) -> Type -> Type -> Type -> Type

Now, imagine something with kind KBot -> KBot. This would represent something that recieves a Bot and produces some other Bot. This is an overally powerful kind signature and allows for any transformation on a bot. For this reason its not very descriptive, but it gives an intuition for what it means to transform a bot.

For a first example, imagine we want to take one of our bots, such as coinFlipBot, and run it on some protocol with distinct chat rooms. We want our coinFlipBot to be able to receive messages annotated with their source room and then produce messages annotated with the target room.

We can describe this with a type alias that annotates a bot's input and output with 'room awareness':

type RoomAware bot m s i o = bot m s (RoomID, i) (RoomID, o)

Now we need a function to inhabit this type. We are looking for something that descibes the act of threading a type through our Bot via the product structure (,).

It just so happens that we already have that! This is precisely the behavior of the Strong typeclass we implemented earlier:

class Profunctor p => Strong p where
  first' :: p a b  -> p (a, c) (b, c)
  second' :: p a b -> p (c, a) (c, b)

This means we can make our coinFlipBot room aware through the appliction of second':

roomAwareBot :: RoomAware Bot IO () () Bool
roomAwareBot = second' coinFlipBot

Another interesting bot transformation is adding session state. Earlier we defined a todoBot which allowed a user to construct a todo list. We might want to allow multiple users to store their own todo lists. We could redesign the todoBot to support this explicitly, but we want to be able to define precise bots with narrow scopes which we can then extend through composition.

What we really want is a way 'sessionize' a bot. This will involve transforming the bot's s state parameter in addition to its input and output. This is still a rough sketch of an idea and I hope to write a follow up post going into greater detail, but the the core idea is to define the following types:

newtype SessionState s = SessionState { sessions :: Map.Map Int s }
  deriving (Show, Semigroup, Monoid)

data SessionInput i =
    InteractWithSession Int i
  | StartSession
  | EndSession Int

data SessionOutput o =
    SessionOutput Int o
  | SessionStarted Int
  | SessionEnded Int
  | InvalidSession Int

type Sessionized bot m s i o = Bot m (SessionState s) (SessionInput i) (SessionOutput o)

These types describe a language for interacting with a sessionized bot. Now we need a function for sessionizing bots:

  :: Monad m
  => s
  -> Bot m s i o
  -> Sessionized m s i o
sessionize = _

A 'sessionized' bot would receive SessionInput input and dispatch the wrapped i term along with the appropriate state s term to the embedded bot. This idea isn't fully developed, but I hope it gives you an idea of what kinds of transformations are possible with this architecture.


We have demonstrated the core bot architecture as well as constructing, interpreting, composing, and extending bots in various dimensions. More so then explaining how to build a chat bot, I hope this post inspires you to think more algebraically about your program architectures and to leverage more of the powerful abstractions available to us with Haskell.

Special thanks to @masaeedu, @iris, and everyone else in the Cofree-Coffee Org.