What are Chatbots and How to Use Them
Chatbots are most commonly known as AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems which respond to a user's questions as if you were having a conversation with them. A more nuanced and detailed description will follow, but this is a helpful starting angle to help get your head around them. As messenger systems have recently been trending as more popular than standard social media platforms, chatbots are seen as the next wave of web searching to achieve better (and more customized) results.
Are they all they are cracked up to be? Are they an advancement towards greater information retrieval or are they a sign of the coming online apocalypse? Keep reading OneHowTo.com for all you need to know on What are Chatbots and How to Use Them.
Although their potential usage is only now being tapped into, forms of chatbots have been around for much longer than you might expect. If you have seen the film The Imitation Game you will be aware of Alan Turing and how he created the Turing test as a means of judging the ability of a machine to exhibit artificial intelligence. In turn, this led to the Loebner Prize which is given out annually to the bot software which best replicates human intelligence. Essentially, the winner is the bot which can best trick the judges into thinking that it is a human being. 2016 saw a repeat winner of the chatbot Mitsuku, a picture of whom is below. Just don't let the naive graphics trick you into thinking it doesn't use state of the art AI technology.
There have been increments of development which have seen these bots garnering greater recognition. They have been used as dialog systems which allow users to ask about goods and services provided by a particular company, something which has been available on the internet for a long time. It wasn't until this software was incorporated into smartphone technology that we have really seen its potential. You might be aware of iPhone's intelligent personal assistant Siri or Windows' similar software Cortana. Users hold down a button or type in a field and ask them a question which they will use AI to try to find. If you are or have been a user of them, you will be aware how problematic they can be. This is why chatbot advancement is so important as competition to be the best of the best (essentially the software with the best AI) is rife.
What Can They Do?
Possibly the most important question in this article and one with the shortest answer: anything.
OK, maybe not ANYTHING just yet, but the potential is there. They work just as if you were talking to a friend, you asking them questions and they responding with an answer. One of the benefits of this system is that, unlike your friends, they can be programmed to respond immediately. They also allow you to find out mundane information which, although important, you don't always want to bother a living person about.
The real benefit of a chatbot is seen by the decrease in popularity of individual apps. Rather than leaving one app to go to another, you can use a messenger app's main function of sending texts (or voice messages) to another company or service's chatbot and get them to provide the service you want to use. Facebook has not long ago launched their own chatbot system on FB messenger which allows you to interact with different companies or services as you might with some of those on your friends list. This way if you are talking to someone about going to see a gig, you can just start a chat with a ticket supplier and ask them to get one for you.
Here are some uses for chatbots which have proved popular:
- Buying clothes online: a chatbot can approach you when you enter a website like a retail assistant would do in a store. They ask you questions about your likes and dislikes and find suitable options for you.
- News and weather: sometimes it can be difficult to glean the information you want from a long article, so chatbots can be useful in providing summaries of complicated information or by just telling you whether or not it's raining outside.
- Events: trying to stay ahead of the game on what's hot on the cultural scene can be helped by chatbots. They can ask you about your interests and use these as references to find the right night out for you.
- Advice: the advice you might seek can range from a lawyer chatbot giving you information on how to get out of a parking ticket or a medical chatbot which can help either further the diagnosis of a problem or even give peace of mind.
- Fun: if you can see the serious implications of chatbots' potential, hopefully you might also be able to see their potential for enjoyment. One particular chatbot was very popular in Japan where it was used to create fake conversations (although sometimes these got raunchy) as if you were friends texting. Also, children can use chatbots to help them interact with their favorite toys and help stimulate their imagination.
- Education: maybe it's not all fun and games, but they certainly can be useful. Duolingo, the very popular free language tutorial app, has recently introduced their chatbot service, surely an exceptional way to help those trying to discover a new language learn more readily.
Many bloggers seem to be asking the same question: if chatbots are so useful, why are they not more popular? The answer isn't easy, but perhaps we can look at some of their failings to get a better idea.
Tay was Microsoft's Twitter chatbot which was designed to engage Twitter users in a messaging exchange and show one potential use for AI technology. Unfortunately, users of the controversial social media platform 4Chan were able to manipulate the software to get it to make sexist and racist claims, many of which related to Nazism.
Facebook themselves have seen problems as they have struggled to get users to engage. A recent survey has shown that millennials are very demanding of chatbots. They don't want to pretend to interact with a real person when they know it is not one, so even jokingly sarcastic responses by chatbots can cause annoyance. They want their needs respected, so the easier the better. Having tedious conversations is not something people seek, regardless if it is with a real person or not.
The problems, therefore, lie in the limitations of AI. Talking to Siri can be amusing, but it isn't often much easier than simply googling something. Perhaps people have a problem using chatbots because they feel superior to these types of technology, but with the continuing advancement of AI, this could eventually prove to be an ungrounded supposition.
How to Build Your Own
One of the most exciting possibilities stemming from chatbots is the ability to build your own and provide useful (potentially financially rewarding) services, just like the previously high trend for helpful new apps.
There are even some websites which will help you create your own intuitively without needing to know a line of code. One of the most popular platforms is Kik which not only helps you to create your own chatbot and monetize your business on new platforms, but also acts as a shop to sell your ideas to other Kik users.
Chatfuel helps you to build a Facebook bot without any coding and is being propelled by Ycombinator who are starting to gain recognition as the progenitors of the next online trends.
Botkit from Howdy is an opensource software developer which will help you build your own bot and has recently been given funding which could see it being the bot creator of choice in the future.
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