What to Read: On Bots, AI and Conversation as an Interface

Bots bots bots bots bots. The rise of messaging apps, chat bots, and what businesses can do with them, has been the predominant theme in tech talk over the past couple months. Yesterday, as expected, Facebook announced its own bot platform for Messenger, adding more fuel to the hype.

There’s a plethora of articles on the topic, and I spent quite a bit of time over the past weeks trying to read them all. Here’s a selection of stuff that I enjoyed — and that give a good overview of of the current conversation.

“Chat apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites. This is the beginning of a new internet.” (Ted Livingston, CEO Kik)

Chris Messina: The Year of the Conversational Interface

This piece from earlier in the year is a good starting point for the uninitiated. What is it that everybody’s talking about, and why does it matter?

Bots, the next frontier (Economist)

Another good overview piece, but more focused on the economy behind chat bots. Read ”Are bots the new apps?” as “Is the bots industry the new app industry?”.

Sam Lessin: On Bots, Conversational Apps and Fin

And one more, from the developer’s perspective. What are the opportunities for anyone interested in writing bots?

Bot Engine (wit.ai blog)

Blog post from wit.ai, the company that Facebook acquired a year ago. Their technology is now available for anyone to build bots with. Interesting outline of their thinking and inner workings, relatively easy to understand also without a degree in computer science.

Ted Livingston: The Future of Chat Isn’t AI

A common assumption is that machine learning will drive the growth of conversational UI and chat bots: The smarter bots get, the more people will use them. Kik’s CEO, Ted Livingston argues that this isn’t actually the key here. It’s ease of use and convenience for customers that will make this platform succeed.

Chris Messina: Sorry to Burst your (Chat) Bubble

So the future of chat isn’t AI. And, apparently, the future of chat isn’t chat either. Instead, Uber’s Chris Messina argues, we should see the technology that’s now available to us, as an invitation to experiment with various types of interfaces.

The opportunity is to embrace conversation as the channel for delivering your product, service, brand, assistant, API, or platform offerings — and then explore and experiment with what kinds of apps and expressions serve the user’s needs most appropriately with specific attention paid to context and personalization.

Chad Fowler: The chat in chat bot is a distraction

Related, albeit more on the theoretical side of things: a spot-on examination of the semantics behind the buzzwords. The real news according to Wunderlist’s CTO is that

[…] for the first time in history, a computer system could theoretically have access to almost any relevant piece of information about you, your context, and the context of those around you in real time,and possess cheap enough processing power to reasonably do something helpful with that information on a mass market level.

Schuyler Deerman: Messaging Apps

This one comes from the perspective of a start-up founder. Is it worth investing in messaging? The key point here is that messaging functionality is an important feature (and will soon be a commodity) but not a product idea in itself.

The novelty of a conversational UI will wear off. […] The real value will still be in the network underneath it. Simply slapping a conversational UI onto existing app categories, isn’t enough.

Felix Petersen: The World OS

A presentation, not an article. The thesis in a nutshell: AI + robotics + conversational interfaces = “a superstack subsuming the current Internet”. Petersen works for a VC, so the optimistic outlook is unsurprising, but still a nice touch.

News Publishers Need To Jump Into Bots (Monday Note)

What bots can do in publishing, and why journalists better pay attention.

Today, reader interaction is mostly based on push mode. The publisher sends all sorts of news on its platforms, and on third-party social channels. […] Relying on bots could reverse the process.

Alexis Llyod: Mechanomorphs and the politeness of machines

The nytlabs’ Creative Director uses Taygate as an opportunity to argue that we should stop trying to make bots act like people humans.

Rather than humanoid bots, we should design mechanomorphs: bots that can create a different set of expectations around how we converse with them. If we make bots more machine-like, our conversations with them can have new boundaries, creating a new space less fraught with pre-existing social norms.

How To Think about Bots (Motherboard)

Socio-cultural thinkpiece on the wider issue of bots (not just consumer-facing chat bots).

Platforms, governments and citizens must step in and consider the purpose, and future, of bot technology before manipulative anonymity becomes a hallmark of the social bot.