An Introduction to Chatbots

Payal
Payal
Apr 3, 2017 · 9 min read

Chatbots. It’s the latest buzz word but what are chatbots really? What do they do apart from chatting? And why is every other company suddenly jumping on to the chatbot bandwagon? If you’ve been wondering this, you have reached the right place for a simplified explanation around this.

Let’s get started with the intent of answering some of the first things that

1. How and when did this chatbot evolution start

Chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversations with human users, especially over the Internet. If you thought chatbots are new technology, you’re wrong. The first chatbot, Eliza, was built in 1966 at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum to mimic human conversations. Modeled after a Rogerian psychotherapist, Eliza worked by simple parsing and provided a parody of a conversation with a psychiatrist in the initial few minutes of the meeting. Here’s how chatbots have evolved since then:

The chatbot evolution timeline

2. Why is it such a big deal now

In simple terms, it’s the new form of storytelling by being available to the consumers at the right time, right place and with the right information and mostly importantly only when they want. Isn’t that core mantra of our marketing?

Messaging platforms are on the rise and it makes all the more sense to be present for the brands where the consumers spend most of their time instead of diverting them to a website or a mobile app.

Our consumers are always one step ahead of us in terms of adopting to new technology which is changing at almost every touch point.

Welcoming conversational technology is one of the first step towards making our businesses future ready as we see computing interfaces being dissolved to chat, voice and gesture interfaces.

3. Bots for every industry and why not!

As a market that was valued at $113 million in 2015, with predicted growth to reach $994.5 million by 2024, we can say that chatbots are all set to grow. That’s partly because people are relying more and more on messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger, Slack and Telegram. Is it surprising then, that an industry which can offer services through a messaging platform shifts to bots? Especially when people are moving away from the web and becoming increasingly reticent about downloading new apps?

If companies could communicate to existing clients and potential customers through the various chat interfaces already being used, then it’s a win-win situation both ways! With increasing research on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning, bots are getting increasingly efficient.

It’s about time!

SALES & MARKETING

The sales industry is the biggest chatbot user today. Sales bots are conversational, delivering a response when a question is posed, making e-shopping less time consuming.

Imagine this: while browsing a virtual catalogue, for every product you like, somebody compliments you and talks to you while you shop so that the entire process is like shopping in the real world with your pal. But this is better. It will be like shopping with a personal assistant! Wouldn’t that be cool?

Chatbots can be powerful not just during actual transactions, but also in reaching out to potential customers.

FINANCE

Ever felt lost in a deluge of information when reading a financial newspaper? You aren’t alone. There are plenty of people like you.

Chatbots can give you updates on the ongoing dips and raises in the market, communicate information about bank services and much more in short and simple snippets.

Other types of chatbots allow you to watch your money, help you plan personal budgets and even serve as your personal assistant.

NEWS

CNN, one of the first news organizations to get on the bot bandwagon, rolled out their chatbot to reach a wider audience and offer readers a curated selection of articles based on their preferences.

Though not as conversational as other chatbots, news bots like CNN and Wall Street Journal, try to understand readers’ preferences by asking questions and tweaking search results over time to show articles closest to their interests.

News chatbots are still young and have quite a long way to go before they capture readers’ attention.

EDUCATION

Will bots replace teachers in classes? Not likely. Apps haven’t yet succeeded in replacing teachers, but they might just succeed here as well!

Chatbots can serve as teaching assistants that can answer questions posted by students online. Automated chatterbots can also help professors and TAs by answering students’ questions, many of which can be repetitive, thus reducing their work load.

Questions that are a bit more complicated can be reserved for TAs and teachers.

PSYCHOLOGY

Though Eliza was created to study NLP, some considered her a virtual psychotherapist and confided in her. Of course this was in 1950. After interacting with more evolved chatbots today, people will likely realize that responses like those by Eliza are scripted. That’s because the latest chatbots are far more engaging, using different stimuli to encourage users to talk to them.

The latest invention among psychology bots was SimSensei, a virtual psychotherapist that gives people a full psychiatric test. Later when people talk to SimSensei, it comprehends and analyses speech, and monitors facial reactions including small twitches that most humans would miss.

MEDICINE

Pharma companies have introduced apps to help patients track daily medication, get behavior coaching etc. However, not many have succeeded. That’s where bots come in. Unlike apps, bots can remind people to take medication, follow diets etc., through conversations on a messaging platform. These chatbots are like virtual nurses or personal trainers.

Companies are also experimenting with bots to improve business and streamline bulk order placement and execution. Soon, patients too will be able to search for medicines or upload a doctor’s prescription specifying the quantity and type of medication required.

4. Humans are to be Overrun by Bots? Nah.. not at least for a couple of decades!

Let’s not exaggerate, shall we? Yes, bots are here to stay. Yes, you are going to see and interact with bots on nearly every messaging platform in the coming years. And no, there’s no running away from them.

Eh, no, bots will not take over.

But no, bots aren’t going to take over the human population!

Bots are and will always remain bots, essentially robotic in their nature and interactions. As long as humans exist, there will always be a need for meaningful conversations and human connections, both of which bots are unlikely to provide by their very nature of not being humans!

Bots are developed to listen and obey, to perform tasks for humans and make our lives easier. The chatbots we’re using have the capability to only ensure that tasks gets done efficiently, albeit with a dash of chattering.

5. So, How to Get One of These Bots

Just get chatting!

Most messaging platforms have a whole range of chatbots that you can choose from. Below are some of the popular platforms for chatbots:

FACEBOOK MESSENGER

Facebook Messenger chatbots have become quite popular since the 2016 F8 conference. The chatbots offer a wide range of services from flower delivery to weather information. With over 11,000 bots since F8, there’s a chatbot for almost every preference. If you haven’t interacted with a Messenger bot yet, you are missing something! Some of the most popular bots on Facebook Messenger include: 1–800-Flowers, Wallstreet Journal, HealthTap and KLM.

KIK

Kik, an instant messenger application for mobile devices from Canadian company Kik Interactive, launched a bot store in 2016. With 70% of its 275 million users based in North America, aged between 13 and 24, Kik is strategically placed to reach out to the demographic most targeted by brands. It has been allowing brands to use bots as early as 2014. Now it allows developers to create their own bots. Sephora and H&M are among the popular brands with chatbots on Kik.

SLACK

Slack, the most popular work chat app, owes much of its success to bots. Chatbots on Slack have an identity of their own! Slack bots are here to increase your efficiency by helping you schedule meetings, organize documents, pay accolades to team mates for good work or just slack off and play poker to de-stress! There’s even a Slack bot that lets you order ice creams! Haven’t tried Slack yet? What you’re waiting for? DiggBot, Poncho The Weathercat and Hipmunk are some of the bots that you should give a try.

TELEGRAM

Telegram, a messaging app from Russia, with over 100 million users has had a bot store and bot platform since June 2015. With thousands of bots, including those for news alerts, football scores, weather reports and even poll updates, Telegram has its bot act fine-tuned! What’s more, bots on this platform have a better UI, making the experience a tad bit better than on most other platforms. Some of the popular bots on Telegram are Wall Street Journal, GitHub, and Weatherman.

TWITTER

Twitter bots have been around for some time and while most are automated to follow accounts, and post automated tweets, there are others that curate information and share it, act like virtual assistants, give you the latest cab fares and more. In fact, you will find bots that do nearly everything that you could think of, like The Nice Bot that combated cyber-bullying by posting nice tweets every 30 seconds.

WECHAT

WeChat, a text and voice messaging service developed in China with 700 million active users (of which more than 70 million are outside China) has had chatbots on its platform much before the current hype started. Referred to as “public accounts”, the bots are being used to do everything from shopping for clothes to booking doctors’ appointments!

In the world of chatbots, you don’t get a bot, you start chatting with one! Most platforms now have a bot store, where you can browse and start conversations. Facebook doesn’t have a bot store yet, so it is difficult to find a bot on the desktop. However, if you are on the mobile app, you can search for existing bots like 1–800-Flowers that will show up as “Bots and Business”.

Finding a bot on Kik is easier — visit your main chat list, search for people and select “Bot Shop”. It will redirect you to their bot store.

Similarly, you can check out the bot stores on Slack and Telegram. And if you’re just feeling exploratory, hop over to Bot List, which lists chatbots on all the platforms!

Here’s a visual guide on where to find chatbots:

4 Simple Ways to Find Chatbots

6. How can Businesses Use a Chatbot

Almost every business that has a website or an app can benefit from chatbots. That’s because there are a number of ways that chatbots can impact businesses with the revolutionary way they are enabling one-to-one marketing and will eventually kill websites and mobile apps (it’s a no joke!)

As an example, check out this infographic on how businesses can benefit with chatbots.

How Businesses Can Benefit with Chatbots

We believe that every business out there — whether a startup or an established one — stands to benefit with the right chatbot.

If you want to make your business future ready reach out to us and we can make chatbots using our full stack conversational technology platform.

Get in touch with me directly on email: payal@kontikilabs.com

Cheers!

Kontiki AI

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