What's a chatbot and why should I care?
Chatbots are suddenly everywhere. But what exactly are they? Should we even care? The short answer is yes. And here's what you need to know.
A chatbot is a bit of software that's designed to carry on a natural language conversation with a human. But even though they've been around for a long time, it seems like all of a sudden, chatter about chatbots is everywhere.
At its Developers' Conference this past week, Facebook announced its new "Chatbots for Messenger" platform. But that's not the only reason chatbots have been in the news lately. Microsoft wants to bring chatbots to 'conversational platforms' like Skype and Slack. Waterloo-based Kik launched its Bot Shop recently. It already has chatbots from the likes of Funny or Die, and retailer H&M.
So far, the wildly successful messaging app, WhatsApp, doesn't allow chatbots. But given that it's owned by FB, that might not last long. Google is rumoured to be working on chatbots for messaging too.
What characterizes this wave of chatbots is that they're designed to live in messaging apps, where people are now spending so much time. Fueled by artificial intelligence, they do little tasks that you once might have used an app, or a web search, or a human to do. So, if you're using Facebook's messenger app, you could ask for this afternoon's weather, or reserve a table for dinner. You could get the latest news, or some customer support. It's supposed to be a seamless interaction that's like exchanging quick messages with another person, though as we'll see, things are still kind of rough around the edges.
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