Hot or Not? The Future of Bots is Here

Bot Fever is taking hold and it’s getting hot in here!

A couple of weeks ago at Microsoft’s annual Build developer conference, Bots were front and center as Microsoft unveiled it’s new Bot Framework, intended to provide the tools developers need to create their own chatbots that people (read: customers) can ask questions to directly in tools like Skype, Slack and more. This past week at Facebook’s developer conference F8, they launched their own developer chatbot API and Bot store (which Jeremy Liew from Lightspeed Venture Partners called the next Facebook “goldrush”). Kik recently launched it’s own Bot store, and you know things are getting serious (or should we say “spicy”?) when Taco Bell announces that it will soon have a Tacobot of its own so that you can order food directly from within Slack.

With all the hype around tools to develop Chatbots, one might be wondering “What does this really change?” – and “Why should I care?” Bots could be just the opportunity the industry has been waiting for to do away with the web and app communications interface. “It may well be that we are going from websites [to] native mobile apps [to] bots as the dominant way users will interact with your business,” as VC Fred Wilson notes about Bots when writing about the latest offering from Kik.

Of course, all of this assumes there will be the consumer demand for such interactions. “If you think about it, [basic] artificial intelligence is already in our day-to-day lives in the form of Siri or Google Now. For bots, it is a matter of training them to think and interact exactly like a human being,” said Chwee Kan Chua, vice president for market research firm IDC’s Big Data team. As they say, “if we build it, they will come.” That’s certainly the attitude these tech giants are taking in creating the developer toolkits to make chatbots the new norm.

What could cool down the chatbot craze? For starters, a lot of work will need to be done to keep the bots on task. Microsoft’s recent experiment with Tay AI, a conversational bot on Twitter, had to be stopped within 24 hours of its launch because it developed some nasty habits in a hurry.

Programming issues aside, there are some obvious business-related challenges that Bots (and Bot developers) are going to face. Market saturation is a problem that app developers have faced over the last several years, and bot devs are positioned to face very similar issues. Multiple Bot stores and multiple communication platforms could mean that there are thousands of Bots out there available for consumer use. And not to sound alarmist, but will these many and varied bots then be able to “speak” with one another in meaningful and useful ways?

What should developers consider when it comes to bots?

There are two balls in play for developers. The first immediate thing is that more and more chat platforms like Kik and Slack are supporting more and more bots. Simultaneously, bots will be platform neutral so they can be used universally across operating systems. As more chat platforms begin to support Bots, and more importantly, support universal bots so that developers can create a single bot to run on different platforms, “developers will turn their attention to bots as multiple chat platforms will be supporting them,” notes Wilson. And consumers will reap the benefits by having the most mundane daily interactions handled by the bot of their choice.

Article submitted by Caitie Clarke. 

Featured image courtesy of Steve Parkinson

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