Bots: Our tiny but powerful little helpers

Tech giants like Apple and Google have made Apps the big thing in software development. Now, developers have begun to speculate and debate whether apps will be replaced by something smaller, more intelligent and faster. Thanks to AI software in the cloud, a Bot can now chat to humans via text, extract the meaning and then act on it. Could these little but powerful digital helpers put an end to apps?

Any time you see a live chat box open up on a website -or when you order a taxi, buy clothes or shoes through chat platforms (such as WeChat and Facebook Messenger), you’re most likely talking to a bot not a person -on the other end.

What is a Bot?

For those who are still moving progressively into the digital age; A bot is a type of software that is designed to automate tasks you would usually do on your own, like making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar or fetching and displaying information and so forth.

Chatbots are an increasingly common form of bots. It’s developed around the possibilities of simulating conversation. A chatbot in particular provides a service that is powered by rules and artificial intelligence, that you (the user) can interact with via a chat interface.

Often, Chatbots live inside messaging apps or are at least designed to look that way and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human.

The service could range from a number of things from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product. Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages all have chatbot qualities.

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How does Chatbots work?

To give you an example of how it works; If you wanted to buy shoes from an online retailer, you would naturally go to their website first. Once you’ve found the type of shoes you wanted -you would then obviously consider purchasing them.

However, the interesting part of this process is; If the show retailer creates a bot, which I’m sure most will, you would simply be able to message the retailer on Facebook. And, in response -it would ask you what you’re looking for and you would simply -Tell it.

Facebook’s Chat Bot F8 announcement
Watch this video from Facebook’s recent F8 conference (where they make their major announcements). Mark, David Marcus, the Vice President of Messaging Products at Facebook, explains what it looks like to buy shoes in a Facebook Messenger bot.

Putting AI in Chatbots

There are two types of chatbots, one functions based on a set of rules, and the other more advanced version uses machine learning.

Chatbot that functions based on rules:
This bot is very limited. It can only respond to very specific commands. If you say the wrong thing, it doesn’t know what you mean. This bot is only as smart as it is programmed to be.

Chatbot that functions using machine learning:
This bot has Artificial Intelligence. You don’t have to be ridiculously specific when you are talking to it. It understands language, not just commands. This bot continuously gets smarter as it learns from conversations it has with people.

Modern day Turing technology

Bots have been around for more than 50 years. With the recent global boom in mobile messaging apps, such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Slack, they’re seen as increasingly relevant.

We all know about Alan Turing (1912-1954) who decoded the German enigma machine by building the first computer. FYI: If you haven’t watched the blockbuster film already, we’d highly recommend it.

The point is, Turing’s influence on today’s technology (and of course the bots) is undeniable.

We all know about the famous test Turing developed in 1950, of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of a human. Turing proposed over 60 years ago that a conversation between human and machine would be possible and demonstrated it. As a result -Today, we have Bots.

Screen Shot 2016-10-09 at 18.44.05

In his test, the conversation was limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so that the result would not be dependent on the machine’s ability to render words as speech.

Turing originally suggested that the machine would convince a human 70% of the time after five minutes of conversation, and the machine is said to have passed the test.

The test did not check the ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely answers resemble those a human would give. Bots today, can provide facts and give advice or recommendations, just as a human would.

Good for Business

In terms of marketing and increasing your onlines sales revenue. Bots are going to lead the way in helping businesses across the globe interact with their customers in a more cost effective way. We see this happening already since some bots are used to handle a variety of customer service requests, which would normally require a telephone call to a human agent.

This is why chatbots are such a big deal. It’s potentially a huge business opportunity for anyone willing to jump headfirst and build something people want. ‘Taco bell’ did it, allowing customers to order and pay for tacos through an automated chat conversation and they’ve caught a real success with this service, as have many other brands.

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Huge amount of Bots available

There is a vast choice of apps available to us and according to research carried out by Nielsen, the average number we use is 27. This hasn’t changed for years.

And the problem with apps and their endless updates is that they eat up our smartphone storage capacity alarmingly quickly, and sometimes rinse our battery dry. Whereas Bots are slightly different.

Buying shoes isn’t the only thing chatbots are good for. Here are a few other examples:
Weather bot allows you to get the weather whenever you ask.
– Grocery bot can help you pick out and order groceries for the week.
News bot has a feature whereby you can ask it to inform you whenever something interesting happens in the news.
Life advice bot gives you an opportunity to explain your problems and it will help you think of solutions.
Personal finance bot is brilliant, because it helps you manage your money better (to buy more shoes).
Scheduling bot can get you a meeting with someone on the Messenger team at Facebook.
– A bot that’s your friend, now this is interesting. In China there is a bot called Xiaoice, built by Microsoft, that over 20 million people talk to.

Screen Shot 2016-10-09 at 18.49.44

Messaging more popular than Social media

These bots are available directly from websites and messenger apps, which eliminates the need of downloading more apps that eat away at your memory space, seen as though the service can be provided in an app or platform you already have.

Plus, for the first time ever people all over the world are using messenger apps more than they are using social networks. This is why we think bots are the natural successors to apps – the interface is instantly familiar to customers. Look at the graph below…

Screen Shot 2016-10-09 at 17.52.25

If you want to build a successful business online, you want to build where the people are. That place is now inside messenger apps. Luckily, Facebook offers users this opportunity!

This growing interest is being inflated by work at Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google, as well as by newer firms such as Slack and HipChat. And start-ups such as Begin, Growbot, Butter, Wisdom and Operator are also helping in taking bots to mainstream.

“People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.” — Peter Rojas, Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks

Many of the same companies that are building apps that we use on our smartphones are building the bots, technically speaking it’s just a transitioning period. Instead of having 27 apps, why not have one app that offers 27 kinds of bots (services)? This is the real logic.

For companies or brands that want meaningful interaction with customers, a conversation mediated by a bot can work well, we’ve seen plenty of examples of it.

Will Bots replace Apps?

Bots won’t replace apps anytime soon. Remember, Bots are created with a purpose. When apps falls short -A conversation handled by a bot may be better. And developments are in this area.

A business will likely want to use a bot that supports the buying cycle of their customers. It’s more likely they could replace parts of some apps, especially where there’s some sort of complex transaction involved or customer service. But Bot’s still can’t maintain a complex conversation, which is probably why Facebook’s “M” is still powered by humans for example.

Bot Camp for easy creation of bots

Part of the appeal of bots is that they simply automate things that companies are currently paying humans to do. So some value may be more about cost savings than new revenue streams.

However, we see a clearly that it’s not all about saving money for most businesses. It’s mainly about being able to provide the best possible customer service and doing it quickly and efficiently. And, if this means eliminating human error, and letting A.I. step in- then it probably is worth giving it ago!

If you’re serious about Bots, we recommend looking at Botcamp. They help you build your bot and bot business. At betaworks are also seeing that conversational interfaces are becoming the new mobile design paradigm.

Bot-Camp have been building, investing, and researching this area for some time, all reinforced and highlighted in the notifications work they did last fall. From Poncho, a messaging based weather service, to Giphy bot in Slack, to the Digg news search bot, chat bots are establishing the most convenient way to interact with the services and media you love. Together with their partners, they aim to accelerate the bot ecosystem.

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