What Are Chatbots and How Will They Change Our Lives?

The concept of chatbots isn’t new. In fact, if you were an avid user of AOL Instant Messenger back in the 2000’s, you probably chatted a few times with SmarterChild, whether to request movie times or in attempts to get it to say bad words. That was a chatbot. Over the years, there have been other chatbots, like Siri, that have become a normal part of our lives.

So, why, 16 years after instant messaging and SmarterChild, are chatbots one of the biggest new things? Well, because we now have the technology to make them seem like real people, instead of a robot failing to disguise itself as a person.

Dumb Bots VS Smart Bots

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In the past, all chatbots have been classified as “dumb” bots. They would analyze your statements for keywords and try to give the right response from their database. They don’t remember what you want from statement to statement and aren’t trying to predict your needs. It was more like a search engine conversation machine.

For example, you could ask the chatbot how its day was. You could get a few different responses from the robot ranging from “I am well, how are you?” to “It’s a beautiful day. Tell me about your day.” To determine which response to give, it might look at your local weather or just have a few pre programmed answers. Then, you could tell the chatbot about your day. Later, you could ask the bot what restaurants nearby deliver, or local movie times. It would find the answer and hash it out to you. It wouldn’t try to make connections between the type of day you’re having, the weather, and the food you want to eat. It just gives the answers you asked.

Then enter the “smart” bot. When talking with one, it feels more fluid, like you’re actually having a conversation. The chatbot tries to make those connections between the different things you’re saying in the conversation. Pulling from the previous example, it asks how your day was. You respond that it was a little rough. It might also look at the weather, and see it’s been a cold overcast day. Then, you ask for food deliveries in the area. The chatbot remembers you are unhappy, the weather is cold, and figures you might want some warm comfort food, so that’s what it recommends. It also might remember that a few days earlier, you asked about a specific romantic comedy movie. From there, it might recommend streaming a similar movie through Netflix or Amazon, to help brighten your day. That act of remembering facts about you and changing itself to your needs is what makes it different and smart.

Chatbots to Help us out

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Have you ever wanted a personal assistant to call an Uber for you, or read you your important messages while eating breakfast? Chatbots can do that.

Need somebody to vent to, but not sure who to turn to? Chatbots can help you work through your problem.

Looking to find the perfect gift for your friend’s baby shower, but know little about infants? Chatbots can act as your personal shopper, finding the right gift to give based on your thoughts.

A major reason why chatbots are going to be big is because of their ability to personalize to you. When you ask Google for the daily news, you get a bunch of articles, some of which may not interest you. It bases its information on what the general population, or even the demographic it has you pegged as, would find interesting. Chatbots would work to serve up the type of news you find interesting and leave the other stuff behind.

Chatbots learn what YOU like, by utilizing new logic technology and your history. It works to provide a natural interaction that compliments your life, not interrupt it.

Give Companies New Ways to Market

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Facebook has announced they will be opening a “Chatbot” store, similar to an app store that connects to Facebook Messenger. Their intention is that, instead of having to download a business’s app to interact with them on your phone, you can simply use their chatbot through Messenger.

These chatbots open up a new way for companies to interact with consumers. It allows them to learn even more about individual customers, give them the opportunity to present products specifically to them. The more you use it, the more the company learns about you. Businesses want to learn more about you and use that data to better market to you, to keep you a happy customer.

For example, you are looking to buy a gift for a friend, but are completely lost on what to get. You launch a store’s chatbot to figure out what to get. You ask it for ideas on good gifts and it sends a few questions about the person. From your answer, it starts giving you products you could get. All of them are a bit too expensive, and you tell the chatbot so. It pulls new options, and you like one, so you end up buying it.

Now, a few weeks later, you pull up the chatbot looking to buy some new towels. The chatbot now understands some of your preferences. Since you didn’t want to buy the more expensive gifts previously, it can assume that you are more cost conscious, or uninterested in luxury items. So it presents towels that might be more to your liking. The more you use the app, the better it can help you find the right item, almost like a personal shopper.

Advances to Healthcare and Social Work

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Chatbots have the chance to improve people’s health and help health professionals caring for people. People will be able to reach out to doctors with common concerns or questions and receive answers via the chatbot. One unique aspect is that whenever a chatbot is unable to answer a question, or notices a dangerous symptom, it can forward the conversation to a trained medical professional. From there, they could pause the bot and enter the conversation seamlessly. This would allow doctors to focus and spend more time with patients who need their attention. This could also allow doctors to automate following up with patients and making sure they are ok.

Social work can also utilize chatbots. A huge part of social work is following up with different cases to make sure they are alright, and making connections with them is extremely helpful. Social media has already changed social work greatly, and chatbots are the next important step. Social workers are extremely busy and it can be difficult to stay in touch with every person, so automating this task can free up a lot of time. Case workers could personalize each chatbot for each situation, to create a more fluid interaction.

Chatbots Outside Your Phone

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Chatbots will have an impact on the service industries. The framework is already being established as we become more accustomed to kiosks handling our business instead of people. It will be a simple step to move from a machine with a limited amount of functions, to a chatbot capable of helping people with whatever they need.

One benefit to chatbots in different industries is the flexibility each business has with them. They can design each chatbot to assist with whatever their customers need. A chatbot kiosk at a restaurant will do very different things than a chatbot at a bank.

At a restaurant, the chatbot could answer questions about the nutritional value in a specific meal, what allergens are prevalent in certain dishes, or even suggest pairings between a drink and food. The focus of the chatbot would be to ensure the customers have the most pleasant experience possible. It tries to quickly learn what you want from it, and then provide it. At a bank, on the other hand, a chatbot has the ability to learn about you over time. It could look over your banking history and learn whether you are coming in today to just deposit a check, withdraw some money, or if you are wanting to talk to a banker about your accounts. The more you go, the better the chatbot gets to know you, and the quicker it can solve whatever problem or task you have for it.

It’ll Take Time, But It Will Happen

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This new focus by Facebook and other platforms on chatbots means it’s going to be around for a long time. Available chatbots right now feel a lot more like the “dumb” bots of old, rather than the intelligent ones we are promised, but give it time. Why many may claim Microsoft’s AI experiment was a failure, it did try to learn what people wanted and hold normal conversations. It simply didn’t know how to filter out people messing with it. The AI did demonstrate though that it is possible to create a fairly intelligent AI that could easily adapt to chatbots. It will just take some time before we can all have personal assistant chatbots in our lives.

What are your thoughts on chatbots? Are you excited about having a personal assistant that learns what you want? How do you think this new step in tech will affect your life? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author

Ben Allen

Ben Allen

Ben Allen is an enthusiast when it comes to video games, crazy technology and all things shiny and fun. If you would like to read more of his writing, follow him on Twitter @allen24ben.