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What is a chatbot?

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It’s hard to keep up with innovations in technology today. As computers get smarter and smarter, more and more tasks are being taken over by artificial intelligence based software. One technology coming into increasing use today is the Chatbot, or bot for short. Even if you’d never heard the word before today, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve interacted with one. chatbots are appearing in increasing numbers on services like Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack.

So what is a chatbot? Essentially, chatbots are services that you interact with via a chat interface. Typically, these bots are rule based, meaning that they have set outputs for specific inputs. For example, a parcel tracking bot might respond to “Find my parcel” with a response like “Please enter the tracking number”. Then, when the tracking number was entered, it would return the tracking information. Sound familiar? In some respects, chatbots are a lot like voice-based services like Apple’s Siri.

While a solely rule-based bot can work perfectly well, many bots also integrate some AI. This allows them to adapt better to user input and learn to handle different wordings for requests, beyond the ones that the programmers came up with when initially programming the bot. Bots that incorporate artificial intelligence are more flexible than rule-based bots and can develop to interact more naturally with real people.

Just what can you use a bot for? Simple applications include things like providing information about the current weather, or the forecast for the next few days. In the realm of the more complex, bots can be used for shopping, with users telling the bot what they are looking for, and the bot offering selections that it thinks the user will like, and then saving the chosen items to a shopping cart.

A bot can also be used to help with scheduling, to provide news updates, and to provide any other straight-forward service that the creator can imagine. The only restriction, apart from the skill of the developer, is that bots provide a relatively contained service, usually even more so than an app. A news app, for example, can provide you with local or world news, and might provide an article summary if asked, but it sure can’t tell you what the best local pizzeria is, much less let you order a pizza.

Well, so what? We already have apps and websites. Why do we need bots too? People are spending increasing amounts of time on messenger services, rather than on traditional websites or social media. Much as the increased use of smartphones led companies to develop apps, the increased use of messenger services is driving a move towards bots as a platform for customer interaction.

Consumers don’t really want to phone your business in most cases, especially not to get responses to relatively simple questions or to access fairly straight-forward services. While many businesses have been addressing this by hiring people to chat with customers through a service built into their website, this can quickly become very expensive. True, a live person can handle problems that an automated system can’t, but in many cases, the cost outweighs the benefits. The chatbot offers a balance between economy and the type of instant accessibility that consumers increasingly expect.

charpioWhat is a chatbot?

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