Photo by Alex Bunardzic

Are Bots just a Fad? Are GUIs really Superior?

Alex Bunardzic
Apr 30, 2016 · 4 min read

I have a confession to make: I like to go opposite of the crowds. If many are raving about something, I take it with a grain of salt. If many are deriding something, I give it a second look — maybe there is something to it after all?

One of the reasons I like bots is because so many so-called experts are ridiculing them. The media is full of articles that point out how laughable even the notion of bots is. People are tripping over themselves trying to show how ludicrous the idea of talking to a bot is.

All this clamouring and hoopla serves as a proof for me that bots are something worth working on. If bots were for real just a flash in the pan, as so many claim they are, no one would get worked up about them. But the fact that so many feel threatened by the emergence of the bots proves how powerful they are.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Let’s not be hasty and jump at conclusions. Let’s examine bots and the incumbent technology (Graphical User Interface — GUI) side-by-side. I’ll keep things simple, and then leave it to the reader to think about more elaborate examples.

Last time I was in Paris, I had to make a trip from the apartment I was renting to another nearby address. Because the distance between the two apartments was short, I decided to walk. But not being too familiar with the neighbourhood, I enlisted google maps for help.

First I typed my address into google maps, then I chose “Directions”. Next thing I did was type in the address of the apartment I was about to visit. Google maps gave me this response:

Google maps answer to me asking to show me directions from my current address to the nearby address.

People say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And indeed google maps is showing me the picture. It is showing the bird’s eye view of the map of the Paris neighbourhood. It is also showing me the suggested trails connecting one address with another address. All fine and dandy, and all pretty much as we expect it.

But then, if you pay closer attention, google maps is also showing me some text on the left hand side. Looking a bit closer, we see that the text contains step-by-step instructions.

The instructions start with “Turn right onto Rue Pasquier”. Then it mentions 210 meters (meaning I should walk 210 meters). The next thing it is telling me is “Turn left onto Rue des Mathurins”. Once I turn left, I should walk 180 meters. Then, “Turn left onto Boulevard Malesherbes”.

And so on. Pretty intuitive set of directions, if you ask me. So the pressing question is: if this picture is worth a thousand words, why do we need the above words? Isn’t the picture that google map produced enough?

The thing is, while the picture is worth a thousand words, almost all those words are useless. Google maps offers real useful words to the left of the picture.

You see, a picture (in this case, the bird’s eye view of Paris) is nothing more than a decoration. It does not carry much useful information. I could not be sure that I’ll reach my destination by looking at the picture alone. The real information is not in the picture — it is in the words that explain how to get from here to there.

Perfect Job for a Bot

If I want to get from 32 Rue Pasquier to 16 Rue de la Bienfaisance, I don’t need a picture. I need an assistant to guide me there as I walk (or drive). And we do have such an assistant already — it is the notorious car GPS. What we don’t seem to have (yet) is the personal GPS, that will guide us as we walk around.

So a bot is a perfect fit for that role. And the conversational nature of the bot fits like a glove into that scenario. Pictures and graphical embellishments only add unwanted noise. Text is an ideal companion for such a situation.

So are bots just a fad? Google maps being with us for quite some time now, and serving us with text seem to be the proof to the contrary. Many other examples in support of bots’ superiority abound. I’ll leave it to the reader to continue the investigation. There is little doubt that the graphical noise will subside. The real information (written and spoken words) replaces pretty pictures. That will bring much needed quality and will improve our lives.

Intrigued? Want to learn more about the bot revolution? Read more detailed explanations here:

The Age of Self-Serve is Coming to an End
Only No Ux Is Good UX
Stop Building Lame Bots!
Four Types Of Bots
Is There A Downside To Conversational Interfaces?
How to Design a Bot Protocol
Breaking The Fourth Wall In Software
Bots Are The Anti-Apps
How Much NLP Do Bots Need?
Screens Are For Consumption, Not For Interaction

Alex Bunardzic

Written by

Medium member. Alex enjoys designing and building quality software.

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