Considering a bot a hammer, stop treating everything as a nail

The current state of the art is way far from the ideal human-like interaction we idealise.

“Bots are the future” — says everyone and every news article, describing that we are at the very beginning of a new user interface era.

People are racing to build bots for every imaginary purpose as: news delivery, movie curation, flight tracking, web analytics, payments, customer support, scheduling meetings, workouts… and the list goes on.

Bots are being built as if they were the great next interface for every problem. And they are indeed a very interesting new approach for some circumstances. But the current state of the art is way far from the ideal human-like interaction we idealise.

Bots aren’t able to have human conversations with us yet

Bots are seen as AI driven computer interfaces which are able to have natural human conversations with us — they understand some of our language (and will even more into the future) and are able to respond adequately. But they are still very far from being able to communicate with us as a human being.

Even though I believe that bots from developers will eventually be behind the layer of Master Bots as Cortana, Google, Siri and Alexa — to take advantage of their Natural Language Processing capabilities instead of building their own, — there will be a few good 5–10 years until they are truly able to have a human-like communication with us.

Today, bots still feel mostly like… robots. They are restricted to a set of commands that they understand and are able to respond to.

Communicating with bots is slow — in many situations we will always prefer Graphic Interfaces.

Bots are a different interface

The emphasis we are giving to bot’s conversational interfaces in disdain of the Graphical Interfaces we have today is absolutely nuts.

It’s sweet to be able to receive my weekly Google Analytics stats on my chat, and to be able to ask for more data if I want to (as, for example, the Average Time Spent on Page). But if I want to take a deeper look at those stats, for example by changing dates to find interesting patterns in data, you shouldn’t expect me to be happy writing or speaking 5 phrases to find what I’m looking for.

Communicating with bots is slow — in many situations we will always prefer Graphic Interfaces (GI). That’s actually the reason why GI were invented in the first place: so that we don’t have to type every command to reach what we can with a few clicks.

Bots will have advantages over the current graphical interfaces, but they will always be limited to what a chat or voice interface is appropriate for.

Bots are here to stay, but stop treating everything as a nail

I don’t have doubt that bots are a very interesting platform, that will surely keep evolving and be (more or less) part of our lives in the next years.

Bots will be able to quickly answer to some of your questions AND with context.

For example, a bot will have access to your calendar, searches, emails, social media posts, medical record, and so on. This means that it will have context that a search engine does not. This means that if you ask the bot a good recipe for the weekend, he will take into account your allergies. This means that if you ask him what movie should you see tonight, he will not mention any belonging to the terror genre, since he learned previously that’s not your thing.

Still, bots will not be adequate in every situation, and Product Managers, Developers, and Designers, should all be aware of when they make sense — bots should be used and implemented only when adequately.

Bots will have advantages over the current graphical interfaces, but they will always be limited to what a chat or voice interface is appropriate for.

So, even if bots seem like a shiny new hammer, lets please stop treating every problem as a nail. Bots will be rising, but not everywhere.

More posts like these will come next week, so stay tuned by following our publication.

Whitesmith is a web and mobile product development studio.
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