Rise of the Chatbots

A "chatbot" is a computer programme, powered by rules and artificial intelligence, that one interacts with via a chat interface. 

Over the last few years we have seen chatbot technology arrive on centre stage.   Artificial intelligence and messaging platforms have combined into a range of responsive technologies, sometimes referred to as a conversational interface.   Developers are making chatbots more human-like with personalities, and we can expect more dynamic interaction with Siri, Alexa and many others over time.

Businesses are leveraging chatbots to provide interactive customer support, product marketing, and more.  Bots can latch onto specific content, words, or phrases and engage with pre-defined conversations delivering targeted messaging.  Chatbots are transforming the way we interact with the internet.   Without a chatbot, a user might direct his or her browser to a chosen weather site, then type in their location to get the forecast. With a weather-bot, a user can send a chat asking for “Current Conditions” or a “3-Day Forecast” and the bot will reply.

While the potential is huge in our man-machine interaction, there are concerns about unintended consequences.  

Unfortunately, there are “bad” bots which have some negative intentions.  For businesses, bots interfere with advertising campaigns and negatively impact costs and revenues.  For individuals and families, there is growing potential to encounter explicit adult orientated bots, and bots that are in other ways anti-social.   Technology’s original intent can be perverted to do harm and contributes to social media cyber-bullying and sexting.   

Our human nature has us generally preferring simplification over complexity. Interaction with chatbots fits this perfectly.  When persons interact with one another (for example, as friends) we are driven by the desire to take part in a shared activity. Communication with a bot is different.  The gratification derives from a sort of detachment.  One achieves a goal (getting help, information, even a feeling of companionship) with no immediate “cost.” No investment is required: there’s no need to be nice, to smile, be involved or be emotionally considerate.   Bots may draw our human social skills in a regressive direction.

What is clear is that chatbots are here, and the sophistication levels are increasing.  The potential is exciting, if the pitfalls can be avoided.

Mike PalmerComment