Everyone’s Chatting About Chatbots, But… What Are They?

[Repost with changes: Original article published in 2016]

During this year’s [the 2016] F8 summit, an annual global developer conference held by Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg introduced the integration of chatbots in the Messenger platform. Called “Bots on Messenger”, it will allow businesses to deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, content and interactive experiences.  It even grants companies permission to build their own bots for the Messenger app.

This is all well and great, but what exactly are chatbots? In a nutshell, chatbots are a computer program written to interact with a user. Motley Fool goes on to further elaborate by saying “most of the time they’re powered by artificial intelligence (AI), but sometimes they’re also paired with humans to help with more difficult questions or tasks.”

While the technology itself isn’t new — Business Insider dates it back to the 1960s — many think that the time has come where chatbots can be more than entertaining or useful for simple requests, hence the current obsession.

Eventually, a single chatbot could become your own personal assistant to take care of everything, whether it’s calling you an Uber or setting up a meeting. Or, Facebook Messenger or another platform might let a bunch of individual chatbots to talk to you about whatever is relevant — a chatbot from Southwest Airlines could tell you your flight’s delayed, another chatbot from FedEx could tell you your package is on the way, and so on.

Some of the businesses currently using chatbots include Uber, Amazon, CNN, 1-800-Flowers, Foursquare, SkyScanner, and Taco Bell. The idea is that these chatbots will eventually be a way for users to easily find anything that they’re looking for, without having to do a web search or open up multiple apps.

Still wet behind the ears, chatbots don’t come without risks. My favorite “Chatbot Gone Wild” episode starred Microsoft’s Tay bot — released on Twitter with the noble intention of simply interacting with tweeters in order to “learn more natural language”.  She did this by responding to users comments on Twitter, Snapchat, or Kik.  Not surprisingly, within less the a day, trolls from the deep nethers of the interwebs gave poor 14-year-old Tay a piece of their minds and had her spewing all sorts of foolishness. Meanwhile, I laughed in between fits of the giggles. Why? Because… people. Luckily, Microsoft fared better with Xiaoice — the Chinese version — where now it’s said that teenage girls are even professing their love to it for enduring and responding to their tales of teenage angst.

Now that you’re curiosity’s been sated regarding chatbots, learn more about us — eBrand Me — and how we can work together.

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