29 Jan 2019

The rise of chatbots

One of the growing trends in technology is the growing use of chatbots. The chances are you have already been in communication with one, even though you may not have realised it. But what are they and why is their use growing so quickly?

A chatbot is a piece of software that imitates human conversation. This can be through voice or text based interactions.  They are designed to be able to give intelligent responses and interactions with humans in order to provide information and services to the user. They do this through a technology know as natural language processing that allows the software to process and interact with natural human language.

Another trend in technology is the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  A chatbot is different to AI, as an AI system will ‘learn’ and develop through use. However, many chatbots do use AI as well as natural language processing (NLP) to learn from and improve upon past interactions.

Some good examples of chatbots are the increasingly popular voice assistants, such as Google Home, Alexa and Siri. There are also many text based systems found on websites and messenger apps. These are often used to answer questions, provide technical support or deal with complaints.

Chatbot technology is not new. They were first theorised by Alan Turing in 1950 and the very first chatbot, ELIZA, was created in 1966 by Joseph Weizenbaum. However, the use of this technology is currently booming. But why is this?

One of the main reasons is that the technology is getting better, cheaper and more accessible

 Another reason is the increasing use of messaging technology. Research conducted by Forrester found that messaging is now in the top three preferred customer service channels in the world, and no 1 in the USA, South Korea, India and Singapore.

This increase in the use of messenger apps makes it easier for companies to deploy chatbots to handle basic customer interactions. Facebook famously provided chatbot technology for free to businesses with a Facebook page in 2016, and as of 2018 there were over 300,000 bots set-up on the platform.

Another driver is the cost savings. Using bots and AI rather than paid staff is invariably cheaper. This has led to concerns as to the impact on employment, as more jobs can be replaced as the technology is increasingly adopted. Others argue that jobs will shift to other areas, as they did during the industrial revolution.

I’m going to be developing a chatbot for a client in the next few months to provide a new information portal on a niche subject matter. It will be interesting to see first-hand how much the technology has developed.

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