Before the inception of computers and the Internet, doing anything would require you to physically visit or talk to other people. For buying a house, you would have to talk to a property agent. For sending a letter, you would have to visit the post office. For ordering pizza, you would have to call up a pizza store near your house. When the Internet arrived, a lot of these tasks became a click away, saving tremendous amounts of time.
Then came smartphones and apps, that took the connected population by storm. Today, you can use apps to do majority of tasks on the internet right from your phone. However, the explosion in the number of apps means users need to download unique apps for doing singular tasks - which just isn’t efficient. Wouldn’t it be great if there was one app that you could use to connect with friends, buy items online, get latest news and updates, book tickets for your next journey and have a personal assistant to manage your calendar and email? It might just be possible with the use of ‘bots’.
Artificial Intelligence has developed to a great extent, allowing computers to understand their surroundings and the people they interact with and give them the ability to know what they are doing. Everything form Google Now to Facebook Newsfeed uses AI to handle how information is interpreted and displayed. Also, AI is the exact reason why some cars today can drive themselves. Simply speaking, Artificial Intelligence is replacing human intelligence in various domains.
So what are bots? They are small pieces of intelligent software that work though replying to commands of a user. These bots can be integrated into pre-existing apps to vastly expand their functionality. Just recently, two of the biggest tech companies on earth are expanding their existing apps to support bots - Microsoft with Skype and Facebook with Messenger.
To explain bots, I’ll use the example of Facebook Messenger - the most popular messaging platform on the planet. At the F8 developers conference, Facebook announced that anyone could build and deploy a bot on Facebook Messenger, officially launching the 'Messenger Platform'. The first bots are from CNN (news), 1-800-Flowers (buy flowers), Poncho (weather updates) and a 1980’s classic game ‘Zork’.
I played around with some of these bots, and here are the conversations:
(you may require to load this article as a web page to see the slideshows)
While the CNN bot only asks users to enter the category they want news from, the Zork bot is far more interesting. As you see in my conversation with Zork, it works by identifying the verbs and nouns in the phrase to perform a task. Also, bots can be adaptable. Say I typed “throw the egg” instead of “hold the egg”, the bot would respond differently and the storyline would adapt to my actions.
Still, none of the bots are good enough to replace real apps. Due to their limited functionality and word usage, they tend to get boring really fast. However, I’m sure 3-4 years down we will have more advanced bots quickly replacing apps.
Now, if you want to try these bots yourself on messenger, go to this document by Martin Hoffman. Click on one of the links -> choose ‘Use Web Browser’ and send a message, say, “hello” -> switch to the Messenger app and use the bot! If you want to look at a list of current and upcoming bots, visit this post on Engadget.
And that’s it! Take the poll below and let me know how you liked the experience of chatting with a bot in the comments below.