Why bots will soon run your world
Bots, programmes that are able to simulate conversation, are set to play a much bigger role in your life.
bored? Need a vacation? A new pair of running shoes, perhaps? Soon, there will be a bot for that. Already being hailed as a possible new frontier for businesses, retailers and savvy marketers, several tech juggernauts are reportedly betting big on bots.
For the uninitiated, a bot is software that automates things you would normally do on your own. Like booking that weekend getaway, finding an Indian restaurant in your area, and even the more mundane tasks such as adding a meeting to your calendar. The bot X.ai, for example, will schedule meetings for you – if you add the bot to your email thread it will take over that tedious back-and-forth conversation needed to finalise a meeting, notify you once it’s been arranged and add it to your calendar.
The most familiar form of bots, “chatbots”, simulate conversation – and most of us have already encountered them on websites as the cheerful online assistant. Indeed, they often exist inside messaging apps – and the point is to feel like you’re chatting with a human (instead of a machine that is taking its cues from reams of data).
An established audience
While bots have actually been around for some time, there are a couple of factors that are now bringing them into sharper focus. For one, the ever-increasing popularity of mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Slack represents a lucrative opportunity for companies to embed bots and create new revenue streams. Take Facebook Messenger, for example, which is the second-most popular app on iOS, and was the fastestgrowing app in the US in 2015. Last month, Facebook introduced bots for the platform.
“Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customised communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them,” explained David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook.
Another possible factor behind the rise of the bots is what many are calling “app fatigue”. Most of us have at least five apps and eight webpages open at any given moment – and a smart chatbot should be able to eliminate (or at least minimise) our need for all of them. Why trawl through so many different apps when you can get the same information by simply posing a question to your smartphone or iPad’s chatbot?
An oft-cited example in the retail sphere is the messaging application Kik, which has launched a “Bot Shop” – described as a “marketplace that takes the form of an app store for users to better find chatbot offerings from official marketers”. Major brands such as H&M, Sephora and Weather Channel have existing bots featured on the Kik Bot Shop.
Watch this space
So what does the rise of the bot mean for businesses, brands and marketers?
“The value-add is potentially huge…from a user perspective, chatting within a messenger environment is something most people are already comfortable doing so the learning curve is fairly flat,” explains Scott Gray, experience director at local digital agency Quirk. “Secondly, from a business perspective, being able to offer services that can be automated could represent both big cost-saving advantages (think about the call centre of the future) as well as massive gains in service efficiency – which positively impacts the user’s perception of the brand.”
In his view, the space to watch is the fastimproving artificial intelligence realm, where bots will be able to process more natural language “as well as understand more about you as a person”.
“Bots are likely to become personal assistants that can recommend and even transact on your behalf,” he adds. “Couple this with the Internet of Things (where many devices are ‘talking’ to each other in real-time) and you might get to the point where it’s quite natural to have a chat to your home’s bot…who can tell you that you may need milk, the alarm is going off, there’s someone ringing your doorbell, and the electricity meter is about to run out (‘Do you want to top up with the usual amount?’).”
As with many fast-emerging technologies, however, bots will surely encounter a host of regulatory challenges as they begin to take over various tasks and infiltrate our personal lives. Gray cites the examples of finance, law and medical care – where the potential for bots is high, but where regulation is understandably both critical and complex.
Scott Gray Experience director at Quirk