Monday, April 11, 2016

The most recent example of a deployed chatbot is also a good example of what happens when a chatbot goes completely bonkers. In late March, Microsoft launched Tay—a female Twitter bot designed to communicate with millennials about everyday topics. Tay is a sophisticated AI that adapts through learning interactions on Twitter. Unfortunately, the interactions Tay received quickly turned sour, and within 24 hours Microsoft had to turn Tay off.

All jokes about Tay’s neo-Nazi comments aside, chatbots like Tay are more common than you think. Most aren’t designed to simulate a teenage girl, but chatting with a bot has become a valuable way to reach out to consumers.

Less Apps, More Chat

So why in the world would we ever need anything like Tay? For starters, most companies have taken a hard look at their mobile games, and they’ve realized that despite their best efforts to create a complete mobile experience (often this includes a branded app), users just aren’t spending any real time in these mobile spaces. Instead, users spend most of their time in a few select apps; among the most popular are messaging apps like Facebook’s Messenger and WeChat.

Instead of luring consumers away from these mobile spaces, businesses are looking for ways to cut into the chat scene using the preferred form of communication: chat.

More Chat, More Money

According to the PEW Research Center, text messaging ranks the highest among the most popular features on a smartphone. We text/chat more today than ever before, so meeting consumers inside these conversations is exactly why chatbots have become such a hot topic.

Chatbots are mini programs that work behind the scenes of popular messaging apps. Several large companies have already started or plan to start work on their own chatbots to capitalize on what could very well be the easiest and fastest way to order a pizza. Plus, compared to developing, maintaining, and updating a branded app, chatbots are less expensive to produce and easier to deploy.

Win-Win Situation

However, service chatbots in the future probably won’t be modeled after Tay—they won’t try to evolve through strange, social experimentation, nor will they spam users with anti-Semitic commentary—we hope.

Instead, most chatbots will be available to make easy work of things like ordering takeout, booking flights, or calling an Uber. The difference is that users won’t need to open and close multiple apps to get all the services they need or want. Instead of installing, updating and maintaining a bunch of different apps, users can communicate from within one messaging app and get just about whatever they want.

Some companies are even having fun with their chatbots. Take for instance the Miss Piggy bot, available on Facebook’s Messenger app. While she’s mostly there to promote her new show on ABC, Up Late With Miss Piggy, she’s also giving unsuspecting chatters a good laugh on their mobiles.