BOTS - What are bots?

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What are bots? There are a few definitions..

From Wikipedia.. “An Internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering (web crawler), in which an automated script fetches, analyses and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. More than half of all web traffic is made up of bot”

We are more interested in bots that communicate with other users of Internet-based services, via instant messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or another web interface such as Facebook Bots and Twitterbots. Bots are sort of virtual assistants which can answer questions and help you get things done quicker without interacting with another human. They're all over the place… in Skype, Facebook Messenger etc etc. They’re big.

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What is a bot?

We’re interested in bots that are computer assistants. They will appear Facebook Messenger and Skype. You can use them for booking flights, hotels, ordering takeaway etc etc. The word bot can be used to mean several different things. Gamers understand bots as AI characters in a game, while botnets are groups of hijacked computers which cyber criminals use for various tasks such as sending out spam emails or to attack and attempt to take down websites. We’re talking about virtual assistants much like Alexa, Siri and Cortana, but our bots communicate via text rather than speech which Cortana and Google Assistant already do.

What’s coming

  • Book tickets - Help users get from A to B a lot faster - You could ask it, ’What's the cheapest ticket to see Foo Fighters next summer’ and the bot will respond in a second with the cheapest prices available.
  • Credit Scoring – find out if you can get that new car.
  • A virtual lawyer - ACE, an AI 'robot' to search, read, interpret and summarise vast amounts of unstructured data, 10 million times faster than its human counterparts.
  • As a personal stylist – It’ll tell me what to wear go to that meeting
  • Order food – obvious. “How porky are you feeling today?”
  • You PA – like Jarvis in Iron Man
  • Your Doctor – you tell how you are feeling and it tells you how you really are. It could perhaps give you medical advice, recommend treatments or direct you to your nearest medical facility, based on access to a vast library of knowledge
  • Pensions advisor – you could ask anything and get a sensible answer – no more PPI calls.
  • As a teacher - the potential for chatbots to be used as teachers is obvious, given their ability to communicate in natural language and their access to vast reams of data online.
  • Your own newsreader. Tell me about…? what’s the score….? Give me the full story..?
  • Toys that talk back – there’s been a film about that one.
  • Virtual accountant – like Sage’s new accounting bot Pegg, which acts as a smart assistant, letting users track expenses and manage finances via messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Slack.
  • Companionship – really creepy but with the endemic problem of loneliness engendered by the world’s ageing population.
  • Directions – you tell the Sat Nav where you want to go via Waitrose.

Microsoft spent a considerable portion of its Build keynote last year talking about bots and how they would make your life easier. In one demo, a bot was used to order a pizza. It sounds simple, but it highlighted how much easier it was to give your order through a bot rather than firing up an app, navigating through menus and selecting options.

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Could bots replace apps?

Bots let you use natural language to get tasks done. This is one of the reasons many people use Siri or Cortana to check the weather forecast, set a reminder or send an email: it’s just faster. The new generation of bots will either be spoken to or typed at (be text based). Unlike Cortana, you can’t type and get Siri to do your stuff, but typing is the preferable option in many situations. When you’re commuting or sitting at your office desk, talking into a microphone is less comfortable than typing on a screen or keyboard.

Microsoft is putting bots into Skype, and if you’ve ever used Slack, your first interaction is with Slackbot, which teaches you how to use the app. But as bots increase in their capabilities, we’ll start to use apps less. At the minute, you probably move between different apps (or have a number of open web pages) to book a weekend away. It’s the same if you’re search for something you want to buy locally: you might go to a website, search for a product, check stock and then get directions in Google maps to show you how to get there. Bots will be able to do all this for you: no need to search Google any more, no need to launch the Uber app.

Smart home appliances should benefit from a bot in the future. Today, you have to launch various apps to accomplish different tasks: turn up the heating, flick on the lights, play some music. In the future, you’ll be able to get a bot to do it all in one go.

Bots: the future

AI, messaging applications, and machine learning are moving along quickly. Thanks to the technology that powers these virtual assistants, they can learn new skills by simply interacting with users. Despite the fact that they can help foster the relationship between consumers and brands, bots still require human intervention from time to time. They also need to be optimized on a regular basis to maintain and improve their performance.

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