Things are Getting Chattier - Chatbots
In today's world messaging is ubiquitous and defaults to our preferred way of communication. From Pigeons to Chatbots, this service has undergone a phenomenal change in terms of it usage and capability. Modern era messaging was initially pioneered by telecom industries in the form of paging service and then later as SMS which now is fondly called as texting. With the advent of technology messaging service has broken the boundary, the service which was once a bread and butter of telecom industry is now provided by various digital platforms.
Modern digital messaging platforms have extended the traditional vanilla messaging service to being more feature based and affordable. Gone are the days when you just messaged plain text in abbreviated form, today message can contain any forms of media. With ever growing user base being engaged in this medium messaging as a platform was bound to leap to the next level of innovation - Chatbots. Chatbots or Conversation Interfaces are computer programs that are capable to respond to human conversation. Chatbots are the outcome of convergence between Messaging platforms and AI (Artificial Intelligence), the advancement of both of these fields has made this happen. If you consider initial SMS era as Messaging 1.0, the advent of digital messaging platform could be considered as Messaging 2.0 and current rising era of Messaging bots augmenting a well-established platform could be considered as Messaging 3.0.
Chatbots are obvious evolution for our quest for Artificial Intelligence and simplified User Experience. Instead of developing an application that needs to be navigated specific way for getting the desired response, Chatbots gives us a more natural approach of getting the desired results or response by using natural conversation that we are so much used to. Unlike conventional interface, Chatbots makes systems more intuitive and flattens the learning curve. One of the beauty of this application user experience is the natural documentation that any Chat trails or Chat History would provide for other users for their efficient usage.
The concept of a bot responding to your message is not totally new. The well-established text banking which allowed you to text specific commands for particular actions on your accounts are the predecessors to today's Chatbots. Appeal for Chatbots comes from the fact its morphs to our basic and convenient method of interaction - Messaging. Imagine what mobile apps have done to website today by porting their functionality to native apps, Chatbots today have a similar potential of porting apps functionality to messaging platform. With mobile being core to our life today and messaging being our primary interaction, Chatbots is evolving to be as Messaging or Conversation first approach for our Application Systems..
Facebook and Skype are going big time in exploring and dominating this space, today they are providing platforms that business can use to onboard their solutions to conversation platform. Skype already have many bots that help you from finding cheap airline tickets to getting weather updates by mere conversation. Facebook with its extensive reach is well positioned to give enterprise the required platform that could keep their users engaged and translate it to business opportunities. There are also solutions where some businesses have leveraged this avenue in a unique way, ICICI bank has introduced 'iMobile SmartKeys' which is a keyboard that you can use in your chats to transfer fund without having to move away from your messaging app. Similarly Google's GBoard is a custom keyboard that has search integrated to it and ensures that users does not have to move away from his messaging experience to get search results into their conversation.
Though revolutionary, Chatbots have their own challenges and strengths. With Chatbots the interface becomes simpler but the design gets complicated. Efficient Chatbots have to be fronted by robust Natural Language Processing (NLP) engines to handle wide variations of human conversation and channel them to respond efficiently. Everything need not be built from scratch, the ecosystem to build these solutions are growing and becoming more efficient. Facebook, Skype and other prominent messaging platform are providing the required platform to develop bots. IBM Watson, Google and others are providing robust NLP capabilities. New frameworks are springing up making developers task easier. So things are getting geared up for systems to get chattier.
Like any other application model, certain use cases are better served through Chatbots when compared to others to start with, for example Chatbots are well suited to get answers to questions "How far is New Delhi from Bangalore" rather than "Show me the nearest route to New Delhi", the later use case would rather be well triggered through conversation rather than being served through it.
This trend is just the beginning of new avenue of opportunities that is ripe for business to harvest to extend their reach and enable further their business. In today's new world of emerging AI, it's time for conventional systems to start conversing to humans and leave browsers behind.