A Message From A Fifteen Y/O to Anyone Working With Chatbots

Written by a real teenager

There are quite a few new technologies that have been poised to be the ‘next big thing’ — some of them being Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots(I’ll count this as separate from AI), Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality.

As a fifteen year old, my life has been affected by these technologies as well. AR in Snapchat, AI recommendation systems in Netflix, and VR gaming.

However, one technology which has been really hyped that I haven’t seen at all amongst my (apparently very important) age group is Chatbots.

It is true that all of this supposedly world changing tech is still in it’s infancy, but AI, VR and AR are already slowly making their way into everyday life, even for teenagers like me.

If chatbots were so great, shouldn’t they be making their way into everyday life too?
The following is what I have found about chatbots’ public image and brand from conversations with people of my age group.

If I ask some of my friends who don’t follow the latest advancements in tech that often (i.e. People who aren’t geeks like me) what they think about chatbots, they’ll either say

  • “They are useless and don’t understand anything”
  • “If we make them won’t they, like, become evil and take over the world or something”
  • “Oh you mean things like Siri? If you swear at them they say funny things”
  • “What’s a chatbot?”

Clearly, people of my demographic either

  • Don’t know what chatbots are
  • Assume that all chatbots are personal assistants like Siri (And use them for gimmicky things like asking for a joke)
  • Due to fear mongering in the media and highly publicised failed attempts at conversational bots, think that a computer than can talk will cause a doomsday scenario
  • If they know exactly what they are, and don’t use them too much since instead of making things more convenient, are just more of a hassle

There seems to be a couple of problems I can see. People need to know what chatbots really are, chatbots need to be applied in cases where they are more convenient, not less, and the media needs to stop considering all AI as a potential threat to humanity.

Marketing — I’m sure that there is a respectable user base for chatbots in other age groups, but if chatbots are really going to go mainstream, they will need a killer app just like other technologies, to show average consumers it’s capabilities.

I say this because the reason people I know have heard about AR is because of Snapchat’s filters and VR is because of virtual reality gaming headsets. In my opinion, the problem with the public image of chatbots is that, along with AI, there is not a clear picture of what they are.

People I have asked mistake general purpose AI assistants like Siri, experiments gone wrong like Microsoft’s Tay, and HAL 9000 for chatbots (trust me on that last one, I know some stupid people)

Convenience — Poncho, the Messenger weather chatbot, is definitely well designed for a bot, and though some people may like it, I found it less convenient than a normal weather app.

Sure the personality is cool and trendy, but that wore off after a few weeks. All I want to know is the weather, and a chatbot doesn’t necessarily make that easier

I see no difference in an app that gives me notifications about the weather and a chatbot that gives me notifications about the weather.

On the other hand, a chatbot that I found really cool is called Quartz. Whereas usually, news is dispersed over many groups of useless junk in networks like twitter, on Quartz, it is handpicked and curated, and just in the right amount. Quartz actually makes it easier to get the news.

Media’s Portrayal of AI — This isn’t something that can be changed in a day, but is still something that annoys me.

When someone who knows about machine learning says that we don’t understand how neural networks work and a news reporter says we don’t understand how neural networks work, they are trying to send completely different messages.

The negative public image that portrays AI as a very dangerous technology isn’t completely unbased, but irresponsibly labeling all aspect of AI as potentially dangerous isn’t helping anyone.


I’m completely aware of the possible revolution in B2C communications chatbots can bring about, but at the current rate, it feels like it isn’t affecting a wide enough market, or isn’t cool enough to go mainstream like AR and VR have.

Although they will definitely become mainstream at some point in the future, I hope that if some of these points are applied, they might be able to faster.

I should point out, this article is just my opinion on the subject, and I don’t mean to denigrate people working on chatbots already. Anyone doing so is free to heed this advice or dismiss it as that of a random teenager

So to anyone out there busy creating the killer app for chatbots, I’ll be waiting…

Thanks for reading,

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sarvasv


Check out my other stories!

You’ve been using medium completely wrong — https://medium.com/swlh/youve-been-using-medium-completely-wrong-52df28f95876

Are you completely underestimating AI? — https://medium.com/swlh/are-you-completely-underestimating-ai-96c7083cfd50