Conversational services

Do chat bots have the potential to hold something genuinely useful?

José Silva
Apr 22, 2016 · 4 min read
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We probably all heard about automatic bot messaging. Hell, facebook made sure of it on their last conference. We have it apps like Slack, Kik, Telegram, or you guessed it: facebook Messenger. Question is if it’ll really change our way of interacting with other systems, or it’s just a nice new feature that, as many new technologies, come and go?

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We’ve going through a process of utmost dependency of pocket size device that can answer almost all your desires.
If you’re like me, you probably have hundreds of apps already installed on your device.

Your mobile ecosystem is composed of multiple services that do very different things. One for shopping, one for checking maps, one for finding a fancy restaurant near by, one for… You get the point!
But there where it fails short! Wouldn’t it be nice if we have just one app with multiple services embedded could do our favourite stuff?

Let’s imagine the following scenario: Buying a new pair of Nike running shoes, size 42 and with just 150€ to spend. Oh, and if there’s any promotion out there, the merrier. Theses are my requirements for buying those shoes!

So, let’s go and find it… There’s hundreds of sites or apps that sell the kind of item:

  • So, should I go through my bookmarked list of sites first?
  • Do I have any shopping app already install where I can start looking for it?

True is i already know what I want! And probably I just don’t want to go and find the perfect site or app that will give me what I want…

If at least we could have a service where could help me achieve my goal easily and effortless. That’s where bot messaging can be of special interest. Having a chat with an AI which would deliver your need just by talking/writting to it.

In a perfect world, this is what might have happened:

“Hi! I’m looking for some Nike running shoes, size 42, under 150€ and, if possible, on sale”

“Hi José! Nice to see you again.
Let me search that for you… I found this item for you. what do you think?”

“Huummm…It’s not quite what i’m looking for! I was expecting something more out of the ordinary. I actually like the new Nike flyknits.”

“Ok! How about these?”

“Perfect! Just the ones. Can i have them by tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sure thing! Do you want us to send it on your home or office address?”

“Office address, please.”

“Ok! We will send your Nike flyknit running shoes, size 42, to your office address. The total order is 110€.”

“Ok! (Costumer pays order within the application)

“Thank you José. We’ve just sent you a confirmation order email.
Do you need something else?”

“No, that’s perfect. Thanks for your help!”

“See you soon.”

And that’s it! That’s a perfect conversation we might have had using an artificial AI.

Facebook believes this type of messaging can become a primary channel for business to interact with their customers by replacing a simple 1–1 conversations with a mix of artificial intelligence and human intervention. But the million dollar question is: can it?

Well, in a perfect world it could…

One of the problems is, as the definition of the word chat indicates, we tend to use natural language to communicate with others. And human language is a tricky beast. And there’s where bots tend to fail. Discerning what should be filtered within a sentence and it sense for a system to understand and digest that information is hard. Like searching on some websites: Sometimes it’s just hard, specially when don’t have the full context…

So, is the world prepared for the bots attack? Probably… but not sure if the bots are ready to take on the world yet.

That said,beware: A plague of just bad and dumb chat bots is coming.

Most current bot applications will leave you with the sensation that would be easier to just do it the old-fashion way. They’ll get better, but it does take time.
Don’t get me wrong… Chat bots hold potential to be something genuinely useful and interesting, but Facebook and other messaging apps need to sort out their teething problems and quickly, otherwise they could poison the whole chat bot space.

So, there’s probably a long way to go and it seems that current bots are not that helpful, taken a few exceptions. For example, Uber can be a probable good implementation of a chat bot service and if done right, could be extremely helpful.

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Uber messenger bot

If bots on Messenger and other chat bot platforms thrive, they could redefine how businesses sell products and services. But in order for that to happen, it has to be done carefully, making sure customers get increased value from that experience.

We’ll find out soon enough!

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