In The News

Thu 18 Aug 2016

Disruptive Trends: How’s Your Bot?


Business By Social

Talking to people is so last century. In the never ending quest to streamline life, tech explorers are looking at ways to automate conversations through advanced chat bots.

Chat bots are simply pieces of software that run automated tasks at pace faster than a human can, usually in response to questions or actions.

At its earliest iteration, think of things such as your out of office message. An email comes in and an automated “I am out of the office” is sent in reply. As the software advanced, nuances were coded in – only send to each person once, don’t send in reply to newsletter subscriptions etc.

Where are we now?

In recent years, bot software development has kicked up a notch.

IFTT (If This Then That) (1) connects different apps and allows you to automate actions. IFTT recipes automatically take an action that you would normally do manually (e.g. unmute your phone when you get home; keep a call log; log your time at work).

While IFTT requires running of particular recipes, the next generation of chat bots is designed to be seamless and not require any coding or action.

Chat bots use artificial intelligence and are designed to use conversational cues and communicate with people in real time, ideally without them realising that there is no human involvement. Think of it in a similar way to Siri or Cortana – but in a typed version.

You don’t need to run anything or do anything other than ask a question. Interactions such as pizza ordering, booking flights, co-ordinating meeting times are all areas expected to be handled by bots within the very near future. (2) (3)

Facebook has just released the API (like the back end code) of Messenger to developers so they can develop chat bots for business pages. (4)

People will then be able to interact via Messenger with pages to query opening hours, order an item the page has shared or find out if an item comes in red and not just blue.

Microsoft is determined not to be left out, and has released a Bot Framework for a similar purpose. (5) Skype also has its own limited chat bot inclusions that you add as a contact to your subscription. (6)

Chat bots are seen as one of the next big things in tech, and chat bot start-ups cover everything from easier insurance quotes to university career counselling. Anywhere there is a conversation, someone is developing a chat bot for it. (7)

However, it is still early days for chat bots that learn and respond to information and speech patterns in real time. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence Millennial chat bot, Tay, was turned off in just one day after it became a Hitler loving, misogynist after chatting with a raft of internet trolls. (8)

Resume chat bots at the moment still have their bugs and quirks, only able to discuss certain topics rather than have detailed potential employment conversations. (9)

Given the focus and investment, expect to see most platforms experimenting with chat bots in the coming few years.

At the moment, chat bots mostly stay within the one operating system – Microsoft, Facebook etc. Future development will see chat bots that operate across multiple platforms or which are platform independent.

Implications

The rise of chat bots will see individual app popularity decrease. For example, when you book a trip away you may jump between flight bookings, hotel bookings, Uber to book transport and your diary. A chat bot will seamlessly check the lot for you and book the best flights and accommodation as well as create time in your diary. (10)

This will mean app developers will need to change direction or potentially become obsolete.

As we begin to rely more on bots to find and source information, our old Google browser will become less and less used, which will have impacts on the advertising revenue model for Google and other browsers.

There is also a belief that websites (especially ecommerce sites) will die. If your bot can communicate directly with multiple ordering platforms to find the best price for a vacuum cleaner, why would a separate online ordering website be required? If people can interact and order from your business via Facebook Messenger, why would you need a separate website?

Personal concierges will also be affected. Why get someone to book seats at the best restaurant in town if you can just use a chat bot to get the same results?

Industries that will see an increase will be copywriters/authors/performers who will help make chat conversations seamless and reflective of the personalities assigned to the relevant chat bots. (11)

We are still in the early days of this trend, and significant infrastructure and software development will be needed to realise all the benefits.

Ordering pizza via chat is the first hint of the changes that we will see in the next decade. It is the canary in the mine and needs to be watched. Unfortunately, soon conversation with real humans may be a thing of the past.

Read more

  1. https://ifttt.com/recipes
  2. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/software/what-are-bots-bots-chatbots-explained-3638979/
  3. https://x.ai/
  4. https://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/2016/04/12/bots-for-messenger/
  5. http://www.infoworld.com/article/3050013/application-development/microsoft-serves-up-diy-bot-development.html
  6. http://blogs.skype.com/2016/03/30/skype-bots-preview-comes-to-consumers-and-developers/
  7. http://blog.ventureradar.com/2016/06/14/25-chatbot-startups-you-should-know/
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/mar/24/microsoft-scrambles-limit-pr-damage-over-abusive-ai-bot-tay
  9. http://www.fastcompany.com/3059265/the-future-of-work/what-its-like-to-use-a-chatbot-to-apply-for-jobs
  10. http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/6/10718282/internet-bots-messaging-slack-facebook-m
  11. http://www.fastcodesign.com/3054934/the-next-phase-of-ux-designing-chatbot-personalities

 


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