Chatbots: a Worthy Replacement for Apps or Temporary Obsession?
It seems to me that ‘chatbot’ will be announced the word of the year at the end of 2016. As you may have noticed, the world has become a little bit obsessed with bots lately: Microsoft’s, Facebook’s, and Telegram’s recent actions are undeniable proofs of this virus’s emergence. And the companies themselves serve as the great examples of those desperate pioneers who strive to inculcate the idea of making the world a better place with the touch of artificial intelligence on the masses.
Talk about recent actions, in the middle of April, Facebook launched the platform enabling developers around the globe to build chatbots for the company’s Messenger and introduced several services which already integrated their agents with the system. Among them are CNN, Spring, and Poncho bots. They are ready and waiting for you to talk to them.
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Microsoft has made an attempt to launch a chatbot on Twitter called Tay which was intended to entertain millennials but failed the mission almost immediately. Having noticed some educational imperfections of the chatbot, a group of social network’s users decided to take advantage of the situation and taught Tay really foolish things. So the company was forced to shut the project down for a while to make some improvements.
But what makes chatbots so special? And why any self-respectful entrepreneur must have them in the arsenal? The answer may seem obvious: being embedded into a messenger, these guys can entertain and provide us with any information (from the weather forecast to the nearest restaurants around your location) in a natural and meaningful way, without having to switch between several applications.
Moreover, they could make your entrepreneur’s life much easier in a way that you won’t have to develop and maintain a separate application to reach your target audience. Your users are already here, use Telegram, Kik, Messenger, or WhatsApp, and there are millions of them. All you need is a smart representative acting on behalf of your company in a well familiar ecosystem.
Today we will try to figure out how to build chatbots and how to deal with them afterwards. So make yourself comfortable, it’s gonna be an awesome read.
What’s different about Siri and chatbots?
To be honest, they are very alike... Although, there is something that makes them special. First, chatbots communicate via texting. This method has obvious advantages compared to voice conversation. For example, chatbots are able to recall everything you said earlier in the chat. In other words, you can quit, come back, then quit again, come back in several hours, and still get a comprehensive answer to your question. In the case of Siri or any other voice interpretation interface, such results are impossible. Here we have the ‘one question – one answer’ conversational mechanism so far.
Second, chatbots can make predictions about what you are going to ask them. Thus, you don’t have to waste your time making up your first question. There could be a couple of possible inquiries on a tab bar or right in a dialogue.
Do we need to be polite with chatbots?
The interesting fact about chatbots is that they can learn from users really quickly. Maybe the best but still the most notorious example of such blazing fast educability is Tay and her wild messages on Twitter.
We need to remember that chatbots require a very thoughtful approach when it comes to their education and treatment :) On the other hand, developers should try to do their best to avoid the similar scenario with their own bots. For example, the Poncho’s creators came up with a really witty algorithm allowing the weather cat to rate users by assigning them an internal score. The method resembles the one used in Uber. Thus, if you swear or just spam the bot with messages, Poncho will ask you to apologize. In case you continue being aggressive, he will not respond for 24 hours. Such a pepper!
How to build a chatbot?
There is nothing difficult about searching and using bots. I’m more than sure that you have already had a hands-on experience with some of them. (If you still haven’t, you obviously should). Normally, a chatbot appears like any other friend. Here should be a panel or list called ‘Bots’. As you might have already guessed, the search won’t take long.
About the usage… Let’s take, for example, the CNN bot residing at the Facebook’s Messenger. Once joined the chatbot for the conversation, you can tell him the topics you are interested in so that you will be getting the daily digest of stories matching your interests. No more piles of unnecessary information and other stuff you don’t care about.
Another bot will be a nice pattern for those of you who want to develop a shopping concierge. The Spring bot just asks you what you want to buy, say shoes or a t-shirt. You can then specify the price and other details, and get the range of related goods that you can scroll horizontally. The idea is to get users an opportunity to find what they are looking for without having to leave an application.
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Ok, we have some role models, but how to give birth to our own chatbots? I bet it won’t be as easy as the first two points. But luckily for us, Internet giants are giving us a chance. Again :)
There are numerous services who have already suggested their help in building bots such as Kik, Telegram, Slack, and, of course, Facebook. Let’s start with the Facebook’s Platform for the Messenger as far as it has already been mentioned in the beginning.
So, starting April 12, any developer or business is able to build bots for Messenger and then submit them for review. The company provides developers with the special Send/Receive API which enables bots to send more than just texts. So chatbots will be able to respond with the so-called structured messages which include images, links, and different CTAs. In other words, users can make ticket reservations, book cars, search for goods, get the recent news, and many many more.
Unfortunately, there is no payment solution inside a message thread so far, but your customers can be redirected to the web to make a purchase if needed.
For a more detailed (technical) information on the Bots for Messenger, head over to the Facebook’s official site for devs, but right now we are proceeding to the following platform.
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Pandorabots is an independent web service for building and deploying bots. It provides you with a set of tools to develop the most incredible chatbots ever including Playground IDE and AlaaS (Artificial Intelligence as a Service) API. Pandorabot's Playground is a free sandbox for building bots, whereas AIaaS API is a RESTful API for integrating AI chatbot into an application.
The company has got its own bot called Mitsuku that is now integrated with Telegram and Kik. You can also have a chat with Mitsuku at the company’s official site. I’m sure you’ll like it!
Will human race become obsolete?
In accordance with Mark Zuckerberg, in the next 10 years, we may see the day when A.I. beats humans at basic cognitive tasks. But what is going to happen to the human job market? Answering this question, the Facebook's CEO stated that he sees A.I. bots helping humans in low-level fields such as customer service, or maybe being trainers for new employees entering higher-level positions. Zuckerberg considers it to be a great possibility to create some new categories of work that bots will have hard times with.
There is a distinct possibility that chatbots will evolve into self-dependant and almost natural assistants eventually. But as of today, they are just the mean of searching and getting information, which, let’s agree, looks slightly clumsy at times. So calm down it seems that humanity isn’t going to be enslaved by robots in our lifetime :) So far, chatbots are the real threat to mobile apps. If bots replace applications or the latter ones won't let it happen – time will tell …
They are not chatbots, of course, but are still waiting for you to drop them a line: in case you have any questions, our managers are always glad to help you.
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