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Are bots the new apps?
Monday 27 March 2017
UC EXPO speaker and Microsoft Technical Evangelist Lilian Kasem on why bots are the talk of the town.
We keep hearing that bots are the new apps, but are they really? Why now? We've had bots around for years. The definition of a bot is an application that performs one or more automated tasks, and we've been automating talks for decades. There are many reasons why suddenly bots are the talk of the town, but there are three main reasons that I think of.
No I'm not talking about the type that's going to kill you and take over the world (I'll leave that for another post), I'm talking about enablers. The type of AI that's going to help us achieve more. The type of AI that is here to make us more productive and free us up to focus on the tasks that can't be automated. But more explicitly, I'm talking about advancements in Natural Language Processing; this is what's making bots relevant, that fact that computers can now understand our language.
We have A LOT of data, more than we know what to do with. Putting that data into perspective, we generate around 10 million Blu-ray CD's worth of data every single day. That's 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Every day. And if we, for some strange reason, decide to stack up all the CD's, they will mount up to four Eiffel towers on top of each other (I'm pretty sure they will fall over before we can even stack them up to a 1/4 of the height of one Eiffel tower, but that's beside the point).
And so with all this data, we want to extract information and we want it fast. When we order something online, we expect it the next day. When we order something digital, we want it instantly. And when we search for information online, if the page takes more than five seconds to load, we click away instantly (or maybe that's just me!). The point is, we want things fast and what is faster than communicating our information needs through natural language.
Think Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Kik. Messaging apps have taken off globally and everyone seems to be using them, of course not everyone, but five of the top messaging apps have over two billion users combined. In general, looking across different regions and mobile platforms, around five/five of the top 10 applications (that are actually used) are messaging applications. And if we look at the distribution of time we spend on our smartphones, it's mostly on communication platforms.
People are having more conversations than ever. People are talking to each other every single day, whether that's through SMS, WhatsApp, Email or even sharing their daily lives through Snapchat. That's why these messaging platforms provide the perfect place for bots to sit on top of. And that is why bots are taking off - because chat bots work.
You're using natural language.
You're on your preferred messaging platform.
You're able to sift through data and extract information without having to search for it.
People are genuinely interested
People really want to use bots. In fact, 80% of baby-boomers are willing to make payments through messaging platforms. And the younger generations are on board too; according to Facebook, 65% of millennials and Gen Xers would rather message a business than call. I was explaining bots and their application to my 18-year-old cousin and we ended up having this conversation:
Her: "You're telling me I can order a pizza… from Facebook? Just by having a conversation?
Her: "And I don't have to call anyone or click through a website or talk to a real person?"
Her: "And I'll just pay online and it will all be dealt with?"
Her: "No Way."
Her: "I need this in my life right now!"
What amused me whilst I visiting Lebanon was that some businesses were already doing that, but with real people. My cousins and I contacted a fast food place at 12am through WhatsApp and placed an order through a natural conversation:
Me: "Hey, can I take a look at your menu?"
Food: Sends me the menu
Me: "I'd like 2 x pancakes, 3 x chocolate milkshakes and 1 hot-dog (no mustard)"
Food: "Where do you want that delivered?"
Me: I gave my address
Food: "Should be with you in 30 minutes"
Think of all the time and resources a company could be saving by building a simple bot. There are loads of great business use cases, for example:
- User feedback
- Proactive offers and recommendations
- Meeting bookings and reminders
- HR (booking leave, FAQs, etc.)
- Customer service (FAQs, order checking, account queries etc.)
- Data analysis and extraction
- Fun / Marketing
- Decision making through recommendations
- Automating tasks through conversation
Are bots the new apps?
Now when it comes to this whole idea of bots being the new apps, my view is "yes and no". Bots are apps. They’re just web applications that sit on top of messaging platforms, or even within a mobile app.
Bots are going to change the way we interact with brands and services to access information, just like apps did when they first launched. That doesn’t mean we won’t need apps, just like when apps first came along we still used websites, and we still do today because they're useful and the right format at the right time; imagine sitting on a desktop computer trying to extract information from an app when the website alternative would be a lot easier to navigate. Apps are great for mobile, websites are great for computers and bots will provide a great alternative, depending on the scenario, across both mediums.
Bots will make us more productive. Some will be easy to build and offer access to simple information. Some will be whimsy, just for fun. Some will be complicated, take months to build and require deep investment over time – in the same way that apps do today. Conversational platforms are going to make a difference and it's all about having more human interactions with our users.