Before we get into the meat of this article, we need to understand what exactly a chatbot is. A chatbot (also known as a chatterbot, talkbot, chatbot, Bot, chatterbox, Artificial Conversational Entity) is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, thereby passing the Turing test. Chatterbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatterbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler systems scan for keywords within the input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database.
Chatbots have been the talk of the town during most of 2016 and as we are moving into 2017 the chatbot craze isn’t fading anytime soon. But why are so many people excited about something that still has much to prove?
Chatbots are an early bet, just like apps where a few years ago but there are a lot of things pointing towards that they may become the next big thing in tech. Sure they aren’t overly exciting today, but with the artificial intelligence, natural language processes, and machine learning improving and becoming more accessible, it’s looking bright. And it is just the possibility of what they can become that has gotten investors and entrepreneurs so excited. Just under the first 8 months of 2016 chatbot makers raised a whopping $170M+ according to data from botfunded.
But why should you care? Well, the impact of chatbots stretches far beyond being an alternative to apps. Bots have the potential to fundamentally change our relationships with computers. Sounds crazy? Maybe, but my experience from building a chatbot has gotten me excited about the enormous possibilities they offer.
With conversational interfaces and chatbots, we will be able to humanize computers, personalize experiences and remove friction by simplifying and automating complex tasks. I thought I would explain each one of these in a little more detail.
1. Deeper relationships
Chatbots and conversational interfaces present a big shift in computing. Conversational interfaces allow us to move beyond today’s transactional computing into something new. With technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning we are not only able to simplify complex actions but also infuse them with personality and intelligence. The ability to infuse personality into mundane tasks offer the possibility to start building a relationship with the user. We infused personality into our chatbot which is designed to gather feedback and insights and we saw quickly that people started to develop a relationship to it regardless of age.
Even though they knew they interacted with a chatbot they thanked it and wished it a good weekend. To be honest, it caught me by surprise but it reveals something interesting.
Research from Kate Darling (M.I.T, Harvard, Yale) has shown that we are able to develop bonds with robots. Subjects that were part of her study refused to inflict pain to the robot’s they had interacted with. One woman even removed her robot’s battery to “spare it the pain”.
Intertwining new technological possibilities, human curiosity and the norms that guide our actions creates an interesting playground and we have only scratched the surface.
2. Personalised experiences
Chatbots also open the door to more personalized user experiences. We will be able to individualize conversations in real time and at a completely new level. The impact of this is huge, until this point it has been almost impossible to tailor experiences and communication according to individual preferences at higher volumes. Imagine brands and products adapting both their tone of voice, communication and offering based on your preferences, decluttering communication and elevating the things that add value for you.
“People want a more customized relationship with the companies they do business. This presents unique challenges for large global organizations with lots of customers. Chatbots allow us to provide a better experience for our customers. It’s a game changer.“ — Stéphane Richard, CEO Orange
3. Simplifying our lives
The thing that excites me the most is that chatbots hold the promise of becoming the assistants we have so long desired for. With chatbots comes the possibility of a smarter way of keeping track of things, following up on important matters as well as assisting us in better decision making. According to recent research from Accenture, managers spend 54% of their time on administrative coordination and control. With chatbots and artificial intelligence, we can reduce time spent on admin and automating simpler administrative tasks.
According to recent research from Accenture, managers spend 54% of their time on administrative coordination and control.
They are the perfect tool for sourcing information, analyzing input and tying together multiple data points, and it is something that will be running in the background, prompting our attention when needed. These possibilities will not only free up our time but also help us excel as individuals, managers and teams.
But, and this is important, even though I am a big fan of chatbots they are not great for everything. Somethings are still easier done via a browser and let us not forget that. A really good chatbot is one that aims to remove friction, simplifying or elevating a user experience to find a better way of doing the task at hand. Some things are not botworthy and like any other business venture, such as start form the problem and work your way to the solution rather than doing it the opposite way.