Chatbots are growing up in 2016.
From the ever-gregarious C3P0 of the Star Wars universe to the monotonously evil voice of HAL in 2001: a Space Odyssey, many imaginations of the future include robots and computers that can talk to humans as easily as we talk to each other. While the idea of protocol droids and psychotic artificial intelligence is not new, chatbots are beginning to change the way we interact with technology in a big way.
What are chatbots?
Until very recently, our options for conversation with software and our electronic devices were quite limited. From the infamously annoying Microsoft Office “Clippy” assistant to an awkward conversation with the online “Cleverbot,” talking to software hasn’t quite evolved beyond mechanical, automated responses.
But in the age of chat platforms like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Slack, as well as “AI” assistants like Siri, “Ok Google”, and Cortana, we finally have the chance to communicate intelligently with our favorite software. With Siri and copycats like it, we can finally use voice input to effectively control our technology. Siri’s response bank is growing, and we’re getting closer to meaningful communication with computers.
From the announcement of Slack’s $80 Million dollar pledge to bot startups, and Facebook Messenger’s new “Ride Hail” feature, it’s clear that messaging bots are part of the future of the human-computer interface. And as chatbots grow in sophistication, the services they provide become more convenient for the user and profitable for the creator. Automation allows companies to minimize their costs while still maintaining a high price point, thanks to the ease of use and quality of service.
Messaging integrations are growing rapidly and have a chance to make many aspects of UI obsolete (sorry to all the designers reading this). Soon, we’ll be able to book an uber, search for a restaurant, or access files all from one simple chat interface.
Whether chatbots will become a “command line for the rest of us” or just a way to make using technology easier and more accessible, chatbots are already making waves in the world of consumer software. I myself have had some great talks with our team’s Slackbot, and Cuttlesoft is working on our own chatbot (a version of the open-source Hubot, hosted on github) who sends us delightfully relevant calming manatee memes when it thinks we’re getting too heated.
Right now, chatbots are used mostly for fun, entertaining side projects. But just like iPhone apps, whose functionality didn’t really evolve until years after the platform was created (remember when the only apps were Angry Birds and Fake Beer?), chatbots are starting to boast some serious functionality.
Aside from manatee memes, Cuttlesoft’s Hubot can give reports on cloud services, fetch application data, and “send” any user a beer. Hubot's practical side adds a convenient way to automate services that before needed to be performed by an employee. The fun comes when Hubot chimes in unexpectedly during group messages with random XKCD comics.
Chatbots have a chance to revolutionize not only software services, but team communication and workload as well. As chat apps take on more responsibilities, like giving server info automatically or informing team members of deadlines and tasks, the workload on each individual teammate is reduced. By allowing bots to do some of the more menial, repetitive tasks that employees used to do, tech companies can raise morale and increase efficiency.
Automated services have the potential to combine with other emerging technologies (drones, self-driving cars, 3D-Printing…) to bottom out the cost of business, clearing up capital and resources for new career opportunities and investments.
The low cost of providing customer service, transportation, and other services will drive down prices, bringing savings to customers and creating new avenues of employment in the fields of tech and I.T.
In other words, don’t fear our newly found robotic friends, but learn how to use them to make technology and commerce more enjoyable than ever.