Chatbots, what is so special about them?

They are known as Chatbots, they have existed for more than 20 years but lately they are becoming increasingly popular, why? How can we take advantage of them? How will they evolve in the future?

Chatbot is the combination of two words: chat + bot. So, what is a BOT?
Bot is just the abbreviation of the word Robot.
In short, a bot is a program capable of functioning independently which can also be activated by very specific inputs.

Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:

  1. search engines use programs which automatically scan all the pages of all sites on the web with the aim of cataloguing and indexing websites, finding out if new websites or pages have been created, identifying websites and pages which no longer exist, etc.
    Such programs are called “search engine bots”, “spiders” or “crawlers”.
  2. when you take your number from the ticket machine to queue at the post office, depending on which button you press, you get a ticket which tells you which queue to join, how many people there are before you and how long you are expected to wait before it is your turn.
    In this case, the program is triggered by very specific inputs: the service you choose, how many people there are before you and the average time a person spends in a queue. Even a queue management system is a “bot”.

Chats are instead virtual rooms where two or more people can communicate through text messages and share images, videos, audio files etc.

Now, let’s talk about Chatbots 🙂

Chatbots have always belonged to the second type of bots and as I said before, they have existed for more than 20 years.
In online video games they are called NPCs (non-player characters). When you approach them, they say hello to you, if you talk to them, they reply to you and they always do it in the same way based on predefined instructions, no matter how elaborate they might seem and how many things they are able to “say”… in a way they are similar to queuing systems, it only depends on “which button you press”.

Modern chatbots are much more advanced though. The intelligence of chatbots keeps improving as they are used through the use of machine learning methods, giving the feeling that we are talking to a real person, at least as long as the conversation is limited to specific topics.

Today, social media is literally inundated with Chatbots and bots in general. They can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Political chatbots: mainly used on Twitter, these bots are used to disseminate information and fake news trying to manipulate voters’ preferences.
  • Vanity chatbots: used to increase the engagement and the number of followers of a social account to make it look like it has a greater “influencer score” than the actual one
  • Conversion/Traffic chatbots: they are normally used to drive traffic to a website, they talk about a specific topic and then add a link to a page where people can perform a specific action, for example, buying a product or filling in a form.

As I said before, chatbots have evolved and are still changing.

Today, there are many applications available which make it much easier to create a chatbot.
Chatbots are multiplatform, so it is possible to create one and make it immediately available for example on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Skype or even Alexa, Google Home, etc., activating the voice component by simply clicking on a panel.

In addition, even now the applications used to manage a chatbot allow you to switch from a tree‑based conversation system (if you say this, I answer that), to a much more flexible circular conversation system which simulates the way real people talk.

How will chatbots change in the next years?

It is quite likely that chatbots as we know them today will completely disappear; we will still use their conversational intelligence, probably integrated into every modern application or technology, cars, mobile phones, home appliances and who knows what else.

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