Chat bots – trend or passing fad?

BY:
Lisa Alleway

A buzzword that seems to have popped out of nowhere and which I’ve been hearing more and more of recently is chatbots, but are these something we are going to see more of or is it a passing fad?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a chatbot is a computer character which can talk to humans, perform tasks such as answering questions or provide help with navigating a website.

Chatbots are not a new development. Between 1964 and 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum developed a computer programme called ELIZA, which is thought to be one of the first chatbots. ELIZA demonstrated the possibilities for artificial intelligence and building intelligent effects into a computer through programming.

A.L.I.C.E (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) is another chatbot, developed by Richard Wallace, which came to life in 1995 and at the time was considered very sophisticated. A.L.I.C.E has won the Loebner Prize (awarded to chatbots considered to be the most human-like) three times in 2000, 2001 and 2004.

Siri, who iPhone users will be familiar with, is based on the same premise as ELIZA and A.L.I.C.E. I haven’t tried this out but apparently if you ask Siri “Who would you vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?”, Siri replies “I can’t vote. But if I did, I would vote for ELIZA. She knows all.”

So could brands use chatbots for marketing products? With more usage, artificial intelligence (AI) behind bots is becoming more sophisticated. Toymaker Mattel has developed a chatbot version of Barbie, using AI software to interact with children. In April 2016, Facebook announced businesses can deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, content and interactive experiences through chatbots via Facebook’s Messenger platform. This could redefine how companies do business as chatbots have the ability to provide interactive communication similar to talking to a customer service advisor but at a lower cost and without the annoying waiting times.

Take it one step further and imagine if an e-commerce site used chatbots to determine the users’ criteria by asking questions and only returning relevant items to buy. Instead of having to wade through page after page of results, users are given personalised and tailored suggestions. The chatbot could build up knowledge on the users’ preferences over time and only offer results that are most likely to appeal. The potential applications seem endless and if used cleverly could really transform the digital world.

I think chatbots are something we should definitely keep an eye on…

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Author: Lisa Alleway

No agency is complete without a South African in the team! Lisa gained her extensive communications experience in London working across a diverse range of multinational accounts before joining AB. Her calm demeanour and can do attitude ensures everyone works effectively towards the same goals, resulting in happy clients. Also a member of the AB running club.

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