2016 was heralded “The Year of the Bots” by technology experts primarily because it saw the fruition of artificial intelligence driving the conversational model, thereby paving the way for enterprises to reach out to their customers in a whole new way at an unprecedented scale. Some of the world’s largest technology companies and consumer focused industries are banking on this technology and are investing heavily into this space both in R&D and in acquisitions.
But are we there yet? The chatbots that are being created are pretty dumb, rightfully so because of the reasons below…
One: When a technology is exciting and new, lots of developers want to play in that space and will create basic applications hoping to get some traction. Not a lot of thought goes into it except for the hope of securing first mover advantage. We have seen this pattern time and again: remember websites at the turn of the Millennium, mobile apps in 2008, etc. Chatbots today are still fairly basic and rudimentary in terms of functionality and user experience. When it doesn’t understand a phrase, the user ends up in a dead end. Some chatbots are handling this scenario by providing pre-set menus for the user. But is that really a human-like conversation?
Two: The technology itself is still very immature. We are still at the beginning of creating a new foundational layer and it will take time and considerable investment for all the pieces to be put in place before chatbots can become a global phenomenon. Although Artificial Intelligence has been around for many years, without a significant amount of work, it is far from being a robust conversational platform.
Three: Large enterprises are not ready to move into this space yet. They tend to be risk averse when it comes to a complex new technology disruption, especially when it is customer facing that could negatively impact their brand if it goes wrong. There have been several internal pilots at the enterprise level but it hasn’t gone mainstream yet and until that point, we will continue to see dumb bots being released. The chatbot idea is still a bit of a mystery to most chief technology and marketing officers.
Chatbots still have a way to go before they can replicate the full range of human expression, but the technology is evolving and only time will tell if chatbots will become as ubiquitous as the apps they are seeking to replace.