I know what you’re thinking – when will the world of marketing just stand still for a moment and let us all catch up?!?! No such luck, dear readers. No sooner have we all gotten to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to start building live video campaigns into our content marketing strategies, something else comes along that promises to be the next game-changer. And so here we are with the most recent marketing phenomenon – chatbots.
A virtual assistant is an app that comprehends natural, ordinary language voice commands and carries out tasks for the users. Well-known virtual assistants include Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. Also, virtual assistants are generally cloud-based programs so they need internet-connected devices and/or applications in order to work. Virtual assistants can perform tasks like adding calendar appointments, controlling and checking the status of a smart home, sending text messages, and getting directions.
Malicious chatbots are frequently used to fill chat rooms with spam and advertisements, by mimicking human behavior and conversations or to entice people into revealing personal information, such as bank account numbers. They are commonly found on Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and other instant messaging protocols. There has also been a published report of a chatbot used in a fake personal ad on a dating service's website.
Dan uses an example of a text to speech bot that a user might operate within a car to turn windscreen wipers on and off, and lights on and off. The users’ natural language query is processed by the conversation service to work out the intent and the entity, and then using the context, replies through the dialog in a way that the user can understand.
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
As the above chart (source) illustrates, email click-rate has been steadily declining. Whilst open rates seem to be increasing - largely driven by mobile - the actual engagement from email is nosediving. Not only that, but it's becoming more and more difficult to even reach someone's email inbox; Google's move to separate out promotional emails into their 'promotions' tab and increasing problems of email deliverability have been top reasons behind this.
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
There are obvious revenue opportunities around subscriptions, advertising and commerce. If bots are designed to save you time that you’d normally spend on mundane tasks or interactions, it’s possible they’ll seem valuable enough to justify a subscription fee. If bots start to replace some of the functions that you’d normally use a search engine like Google for, it’s easy to imagine some sort of advertising component. Or if bots help you shop, the bot-maker could arrange for a commission.
The bot (which also offers users the opportunity to chat with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman) isn’t a true conversational agent, in the sense that the bot’s responses are currently a little limited; this isn’t a truly “freestyle” chatbot. For example, in the conversation above, the bot didn’t recognize the reply as a valid response – kind of a bummer if you’re hoping for an immersive experience.
2a : a computer program that performs automatic repetitive tasks : agent sense 5 Several shopping "bots" will track down prices for on-line merchandise from a variety of vendors.— Sam Vincent Meddis especially : one designed to perform a malicious action These bot programs churn away all day and night, prodding at millions of random IP addresses looking for holes to crawl through. — Jennifer Tanaka
ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY'). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".