The Rise of the Chatbots

Monday Author: Susanne Skinner

chat·bot [ˈCHatbät] NOUNa computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet

Ready or not, they’re here. In the simplest terms, a chatbot is software designed to mimic conversation with another human. It’s an artificial intelligence program developed to simulate intelligent conversation through written or spoken text. You chat with them to get things done or be entertained.  Chatbots like Cortana, Siri and Alexa are the next phase in the migration from a desktop-dominant world to a mobile one.

chat•bot [ˈCHatbät] NOUN:  a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the InternetA chatterbot (chat bot) takes written text input from a user and matches it with the program’s database to output a sentence that forms the chatbots reply. Some chatbot programs use speech recognition animations to enhance the virtual user experience. They essentially replace the search window and prevent app fatigue.

“Chatbots unlock conversation as a platform” says Microsoft’s CEO Sataya Nadella, “its technology that’s inevitable.” Microsoft’s bot Cortana is an example of what’s been called a “universal bot” or “interface bot” because she doesn’t live in a particular app, but spans the entire device.

Microsoft is betting on the future of these bots, which act like assistants, anticipating what you need; looping tasks practically and efficiently. Microsoft wants “‘Hey Cortana” to be in everyone’s vocabulary to herald the rise of the Chatbots.

Why Are They Important?

The answer is simplicity. If you have a question why browse a website or search for a specific app and then search within that app when you can simply ask your chatbot.

Think of it as a replacement for all the apps you have downloaded. Instead of opening the weather app to see the temperature, you ask your bot and it will tell you.This seamless execution comes from a command line type of interface, like Facebook Messenger. It’s important because people—especially Millennials—spend more time with messaging apps than they do social media.

Eventually, a single chatbot could become your personal assistant, handling many aspects of your daily life; whether it’s managing your finances, ordering groceries, calling an Uber or setting up a meeting.  A chatbot can tell you when your flight is delayed; push news alerts and pay your bills on time.

Chatbots are the future science fiction writers warned you about. They store, synthesize, and recall information you use on a regular basis, like your credit card numbers, addresses or even traffic routes. They can anticipate what you want before you ask. No apps, no searches; just your voice. By asking, “Will it rain today?” a chatbot will know your location and answer by telling you to take an umbrella.

Artificial People

Chatbots are the future science fiction writers warned you about.  They store, synthesize, and recall information you use on a regular basis, like your credit card numbers, addresses or even traffic routes.This technology is not new—think HAL in the 1968 move 2001: A Space Odyssey and SONNY, the robot from 2004’s I, Robot. Early applications date back to the sixties with chat platforms like AIM. You may even remember SmarterChild, a robot that lived in the buddy list of AOL Instant Messenger and Windows Live Messenger users.

Chatbots will never be human, but they are built to replicate and even anticipate human conversation. They use a process called deep learning; built upon machine learning. where computers learn to do something based on a series of constructs.  Deep learning carries out machine learning using a more advanced neural network that can recognize speech, data, and patterns and transmit that data through the network.

The three most common forms a chatbot can take are Reactive, Scheduled and Predictive:

  • Reactive chatbots deliver information in a predictive mode. They are guided by a fixed menu or rule engine, delivering answers based on predefined questions. The chatbot designer tries to define the questions that need to be answered by the chatbot. This works fine in the majority of customer questions or simple transactions protocols.
  • Scheduled chatbots deliver information in a set timeframe. For example, every morning you can get stock updates, delivery updates, or, if you are a business, orders placed in the last 24 hours. Many people use them to deliver breaking news.
  • Predictive chatbots deliver information based upon behavior knowledge or previous conversions with you or others. These are the Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbots.

Intelligence is added as part of a conversation. The bot tries to understand your questions and gives personalized answers. Predictive chatbots provide real-time information based on daily routines, like navigating the best traffic routes or placing an order at your favorite coffee shop.

Chatbots as Business Agents

Today consumers face lengthy and frustrating processes while attempting to resolve customer service issues. Chatbots can streamline information and improve the most basic human interactions.

Today consumers face lengthy and frustrating processes while attempting to resolve customer service issues.  Chatbots can streamline information and improve the most basic human interactions.  If you want to know a store’s opening hours, inquire about the availability of a specific item or the status of an order;  it can all be done through a bot. Complex issues are relayed to a call center, increasing the response time effectiveness.

Bots can improve customer service that has become notoriously bad. Who among us has not suffered lengthy wait times and rude agents?  Bots can alleviate consumer irritation, streamline response times and improve reputations.

Airlines and hotels can simplify the booking process and retailers of fashion and home goods can use bots to expedite a more detail-intensive (size, color, availability) search process.

Businesses are using bots to stay competitive in today’s marketplace. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Burger King and Domino’s Pizza use chatbots to allow customers to order food. Mattress startup Casper built a chatbot for insomniacs. It’s available between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

Anything you use the internet for, you can use a chatbot for. One day apps may become obsolete. In theory, the bots will take away the mundane, routine parts of a task or job, allowing people to manage the strategic aspects that only a human can deal with.

In theory. If you planned a long and fruitful career in a customer-facing job you may want to rethink that.

3 thoughts on “The Rise of the Chatbots

  1. I agree with you Mike. I think this is a Millennial toy. That said, they have a lot of traction in that age group, which represents instant gratification and likes
    no lines no waiting ….

  2. Yeah, I’m not enamored with much of this at all. I bought my son a “Google Home” for Christmas, and it has novel usefulness for getting sports scores, weather information and turning on the TV or getting some music streaming to speakers in various rooms. However they eventually found it be more annoying then useful, so I’ll wait until they can improve it more before even considering such a thing in our house. Net of it for us – we can do just fine without it.

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