Article

Mark Armstrong
Mark Armstrong 7 July 2016
Categories Research, Technology

Let Me Tell You About Chat Bots Before They Do

Whether we realise it or not, we have been interacting with bots, especially voice bots, for some time now. The somewhat annoying voice-prompter of some airline support lines (the ones that have enough voice-recognition ability to hear the barrage of foul language to know they should respond!) are powered by bots.

Facebook made a splash in its recent conference by announcing that bots will now be available in Facebook Messenger, an app with a huge existing user base. Following the announcement, bots, specifically chatbots, are being hailed as the next big thing, replacing the need for downloadable apps. Integrated into an already viable platform, a bot can do things that a normal human chat wouldn’t necessarily be able to accomplish easily, like check the local weather, order pizza, or hail a cab.

Whether we realise it or not, we have been interacting with bots, especially voice bots, for some time now. The somewhat annoying voice-prompter of some airline support lines (the ones that have enough voice-recognition ability to hear the barrage of foul language to know they should respond!) are powered by bots. Google also announced its competitor to Siri, the voice-activated Google Assistant. Love them or hate them bots are becoming the marketers toy of choice this year, bringing more novel ways for consumers to interact with brands through their mobile devices. 

So what does a bot do?

Technically speaking, bots are a form of artificial intelligence that analyse input and emit output in human language. In simpler terms they are a computer programme that is able to convincingly simulate how a human would behave in a conversation (save any deep rooted declarations of love of course). And they shouldn’t give you an angry response back if you ask the same question 10 times!

Integrated into an already viable platform with many users, a bot can do things that a normal human chat session or voice command wouldn’t be able to accomplish easily because they are built on top of services with large user bases. As such third-party companies are understandably starting to leverage bots to perform specialised tasks, such as check bank account balances or order plane tickets via text prompts. This increased automation and administration of business rules increases the efficiency of business processes, reducing dependency on IT and improving the overall agility of their operations. 

Is it looking at me?

With any new technology comes the inevitable teething problems and uncertainty from consumers. Chatbots by their very nature will create an initial sense of curiosity, but also a smattering of unease and distrust. Helping users get over the concerns over whether their pizza request has truly been understood and ordered, and not sitting for 3 hours hungry whilst a friendly robotic voice tells you it understands and everything is going to arrive eventually, is one hurdle for developers and companies to overcome.

The app is dead….all hail the king of Chat

Although the initial splash of hype may have dimmed a little, bots are going to continue to grow. Integrated with other apps, bots reduce the need to download a specialised app to perform tasks – a trend that we’re seeing become more and more popular. If you can order a takeaway through WhatsApp why would you need to download a dedicated app for that one task?

If the specialized app landscape is shrinking, bot integration will make the appeal of more widespread apps broader. Clearly the landscape is changing for mobile interactions, and bots are part of the trend. So meet your new best friend….who will never ever leave!!

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