What are bots?  If you’re online, chances are you’ve already encountered them. Bots  can spam users with unwanted advertisements (remember the Nigerian Prince who wanted to give you millions of dollars?).  Some are sophisticated enough trick people into thinking they’re having a conversation with a real person (for a little while).  In general, bots have a bad reputation.  

 

However, they aren’t all bad!  A bot is simply a software application used to complete repetitive tasks at a very fast rate. Think of it as an app.  An app is a software program that runs on your phone; a bot is a software program that runs on the internet.  When you open the app and tell it to complete a function, it keeps repeating the function until it’s told not to.  Though the complexity of bots is limitless, the idea is a simple one.  Bots are some of the most effective gadgets in the Internet’s toolbox.

 

They will become more sophisticated and personalized, to the point that we will use them to navigate the internet.  Bots are used now to scrape the internet for Google Analytics and to determine SEO (Search engine optimization).  They’re used to find real-time public conversations containing keywords.  Bots constantly create profiles on social media platforms.  They even end up having conversations with each other!

 

Social Media platforms talk a lot about  nefarious uses  of bots.  They’re used to grow inauthentic lists, mass-spam users, or phish for personal information.  LinkedIn has been known to sue bot-users who violate their terms and services agreements.

 

But! Would you believe Facebook actually wants people to develop more bots? Facebook actually has a bot kit for software developers.  Why? Because of the potential bots have for helping businesses and users alike.  

Take Taco Bell.  The fast-food chain is currently beta testing a bot for Slack (called TacoBot) that lets you order  your favorite late-night Mexican food from the Slack app (because you’ll be up managing that project Saturday at 1am).  

 

Bot technology is being driven by customer service needs such as this.  In fact, it’s one of the most profitable ways consumer facing businesses can use new technology.  

You’ve already encountered bots when trying to contact your insurance company or bank via phone on online through chat boxes that pop up asking how they can help on an organization’s website.  As these bots become more sophisticated, large companies will save countless hours of labor by reducing customer service representatives with chatbots.  The reputation of the company’s customer service will be determined by how sophisticated the bot is and how well it relates to the customer.  The same customer service bot will be deployed through Slack, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, SMS (texting), phone, Whatsapp, and every other mainstream platform in order to interact with customers wherever they may be found.  

 

We can seperate chatbots bots into 4 categories, according to Blogger Alex Bunardzic, who wrote about these categories in his article Four Types of Bots in ChatBots Magazine.

 

Stateless Bots like Cleverbot, are purely reactive in conversation.  They wait for a command and reply, with no recollection of anything that was previously said.

 

Semi-Stateful Bots are bots that are programmed to follow a series of interactions between them and the user while making decisions based on the user’s input.  Think about dialing in or speaking to an automated phone system.  You can (generally) follow prompts to get to where you want to go.

 

Stateful Bots follow the conversation with the user and save it for their next interaction.  This is a more sophisticated bot.  An example would be the TacoBot saying “Here’s what you ordered last time, would you like to reorder or change it up with today’s special?”

 

Loyal Bots could be called ButlerBots.  This is where artificial intelligence meets bots and where the future of this technology is headed.  These bots continuously use algorithms to scrape and mold your data history and previous interactions with the bot in order to get smarter about your wants, needs, and behaviors.  Eventually these will become sophisticated enough to know what you want before you want it.  Each ButlerBot will be more unique than fingerprints (identical twins won’t even be able to recreate each other’s ButlerBots).

 

As bots become more sophisticated, driven by the needs of the customer service industry, apps will be replaced.  Any ordering, customer engagement, data collection, and company interaction will be handled by bots on existing platforms and apps such as Facebook, Slack, and Google.  That Papa John’s app that you need to download and sign up with? Gone.  A bot can do it on Messenger.  Want to transfer money to a friend? A bots got this.  Ordering Uber? Snag one from Whatsapp.  Though this technology isn’t pervasive yet, keep a look out for the next 1-5 years.  The way we fundamentally use the internet is about to change.  Machine learning will provide us with an ease of web navigation and personalization we are just now starting to imagine.