The growth story of chatbots has mirrored the blazing technological transformation the world has undergone in the last half a decade. Essentially AI-driven computer programs that have the ability to carry out conversations over auditory or textual platforms. Chatbots have really come of age, starting from the days of being ‘conversational interfaces’ that people just didn’t read to headlining global tech press as the building blocks of future conversations,. But how did they reach where they are, and where are they being used the most today?
Moreover, how can we expect chatbots to transform our future?
Chatbots-Adding efficiency with each word
Arguably the first chatbot that crossed the threshold of being just a novelty machine exhibiting basic intelligence to a useful assistance device was SmarterChild. Its creators bundled together a varied database of information that enabled it to assist users in a number of ways. This utility focused bot represented a significant step forward in the domain of man-machine interaction, an essential feature that still serves as a frame of reference for the bots of today.
At present, the sphere of influence of chatbots has grown massively.
From weather updates to news, ordering food, identifying the best route, setting work reminders, sending mails or planning a holiday, chatbots are serving as the perfect facilitators fulfilling our needs to even pre-empting them! Along with individuals, chatbots have played a pivotal role in transforming the world of business, resulting in more than $8billion estimated annual savings across industries!
No wonder then that organizations are making a beeline to incorporate chatbots into their operations, with more than 80% companies set to launch their own bots by 2020 and the industry growing at a CAGR of 35% from 2016-2021!
But why are chatbots becoming so influential?
The answer lies in their ability to mine, segregate, analyse, interpret and utilize the modern world’s new oil, data, to its optimum. Increasing mobile footprints result in more and more data generation, and chatbots, armed with cutting-edge tools such as natural language processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, offers businesses the best bet to extract the most valuable information from consumers.
The growing allocation of funds by the big ‘five’ technology giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple towards chatbots and the utility they provide to upcoming start-ups in competing with the big players ensures they have a sustained demand across businesses.
Closer home, established business houses as well as emerging startups across domains have been associating with third-party chatbot based assistance service providers and innovators to boost their operative and interactive abilities. Dedicated virtual assistant developers and innovators in the chatbot sphere such as Haptik have, during the past couple of years, grown their client portfolio manifold, developing bots for businesses across industries and purposes.
In fact, chatbots are perhaps the easiest, most transparent medium of humanizing technology to help encourage the world’s next generation of users move online, all the while keeping the art of conversations alive.
The challenges-Chatbots, prone to misinterpretations and over-expectations
As technologies such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), AI help develop the ‘chat’ aspect more than the ‘bot’ aspect, the chatbots of tomorrow are fighting to get an identity of their own. Bot developers today are slowly trying to make the transition from ‘building’ to ‘designing’ bots, helping them to develop a vocabulary, avatar to even a sense of humour of their own!
Brand marketers and bot developers have realized the fact that just like a good story is made memorable through detailed character development, a business needs to have a bot whose personality echoes the brand’s value proposition while helping it develop warmer ties with the consumers.
However, it is easier said than done. Assigning a particular identity has the potential to backfire as well. For instance, assigning a bot’s particular sense of humour or a joke it picked up from one user might be offensive to another. Similarly, a particular way of speech might appeal to a younger demography but be ruled as impolite by elders.
Does, businesses need to prepare a detailed blueprint with a dedicated third-party bot developer while going about creating the bot’s identity. It is after all, going to be the first point for the consumers to interact with the business. No one would like to alienate customers while trying to bring conversations back to technology.
Furthermore, businesses need to have sufficient clarity while deciding on the objectives they are looking to achieve by deploying a particular bot. Frequently, we have come across entrepreneurs who want to implement a bot just because they want to jump on the bandwagon, without realizing the utility of the technology in general or its use for the particular business.
Also, a bot is developed keeping in mind the requirements of a domain the business in is involved in along with the organization’s own set of needs. Therefore, expecting a sales-oriented chatbot to be able to handle product development or manufacturing related queries is wrong. Chatbots, like humans need to find their purpose, and unless that’s clear, they cannot be of much use.
Collaboration, the ideal way forward for bot-human interaction
Every day, numerous chatbot use cases are being identified, even across industries such as healthcare, education, counseling, to even the creative arts! Recently, Delhi’s Nature Morte gallery hosted India’s first Artificial Intelligence Art exhibition, a one-of-its-kind show. But does that mean we would soon be able to produce a ‘Picasso-by-algorithm’ or a ‘Brando bot’ actor par excellence? Definitely not. While bots are making their presence felt in every sphere, even those driven entirely by human empathy, feelings and expressions, they are inherently facilitators rather than usurpers of humanity.
They accelerate human tasks by performing the mundane, providing an alternative of carrying out tasks that are repetitive in nature or do not require human intuition to allow us to focus on more complex feats. As the creations in the exhibition suggested, machines, only in conjunction with human beings, can produce masterpieces, be it on paper or on the canvas of the world!
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Author: Swapan Rajdev
Swapan is currently the Co-Founder and CTO of Haptik. Haptik is one of the world’s largest chatbot platforms, building applications for consumers, publishers, and enterprises. The company has been at the forefront of the paradigm shift from apps to bots, having worked across various chatbot use cases such as commerce, customer service, utility and lead generation. Haptik’s partners and clients in India include Coca-Cola, HDFC Life, Samsung, Sharekhan, Edelweiss Tokio, Goibibo, Amazon Pay among others.