The Rise of Bots Fuelled By Facebook Announcement

We have probably all heard of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and perhaps thought of it as something that is a long way off for us in terms of daily interaction.

The fact is that AI is already here in the form of “bots” and if plans unveiled by Facebook at the recent F8 developer conference are anything to go by we’re about to be interacting a lot more with them in our daily lives.

What Are Bots?

A bot is a computer software program that people can interact with using Artificial Intelligence. For example, chatbots can answer questions and chat in a way online that resembles human conversation.

Some commentators say that we have sacrificed conversation for growth and scale and so it is the conversation experience that bots can bring back to businesses that makes them so attractive.

The hope is that bots (described recently by Microsoft’s boss Satya Nadella as “the new apps”) can ultimately become a kind of ideal personal assistant that can answer our questions and organise our lives.

What Are The Benefits of Bots?

The benefits for an organisation using them include:

  • They are cheaper than training humans.
  • Some studies have shown that people can prefer dealing with bots on websites rather than humans on the phone. Research firm Gartner for example estimates that up to 85% of customer service centres will become virtual by 2020.
  • They are very well suited to many value adding service tasks.
  • Companies should theoretically have much more control over messages given out and the consistency of those messages

What Can They Do?

There are many real-life examples of how bots are being used by organisations world wide right now. These include:

• The bots used on the Chinese texting service WeChat to pay for meals, order movie tickets and to allow users to send each other presents.

• The virtual assistants used by Lloyds bank, Renault, many accounting firms, retailers and local governments to help guide users through their websites.

• The Taco Bot used by Taco Bell to help users order meals.

• Bots used by Kik (an instant messenger app for mobile devices) to answer questions about the weather, give make-up tips and guide people around websites.

Other soon-to-be launched / soon-to-be developed bots include :

• The New York robot lawyer bot that appeals against parking tickets on your behalf. (so far used by 150,000 people).

• Bots to interact with customers on Skype, its video and messaging service. These will be developed by Microsoft users.

Why Now?

The days of using lots of different apps to get things done are now on the decline. For example, recent Forrester Research estimated that 80% of the typical US Smartphone user’s time was spent in just 5 apps.

Also, there have been some major new developments in A.I. such as ‘deep learning’ and neural networks. These have meant that chatbots can learn from data sets and mimic the way that the human brain works.

Drawbacks

As with all new ideas, there are plenty of examples of things not going to plan and plenty of potential flaws. For example, Twitter users  found great amusement in exploiting the learning aspect bots by training Microsoft’s chatbot ‘Tay’ to give racist and inappropriate answers.

Many people also have concerns about security whereby bots which learn so much about us are let loose on a platform such as Facebook (that already knows so much about us), and what the consequences of a hack under these circumstances could be.

What’s So Special About Facebook Bots?

The really important aspect of Facebook’s latest announcement at F8 is that anyone can now make their own bot using Facebook’s application programming interface (API) known as ‘Messenger Platform’.

Using the access and know-how within Facebook’s API, users can create their own uniquely intelligent bots. These will be powered by Facebook’s Bot Engine that acts as a kind central brain for collective learning that can be passed on to the bots to make them even more ‘intelligent’ and better at the tasks they were designed for. This could mean that there could now be a kind of bot development gold rush through Facebook.

This can only be good news for Facebook in gaining another march on its competitors Apple, Microsoft and Google, and as another possible source of future revenue.

For bot developers access to Facebook’s resources in this way could be a huge commercial opportunity.

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

Bots could therefore mean that you could reduce costs, and add value to your services by putting bots to work to interact with your customers to enhance customer service.

This could mean help and savings on labour, training and staffing, and could provide a source of competitive advantage that could be quickly added to or changed if/when needed.