Generally, a bot is software that automates tasks. A Chatbot is a type of bot that can be found on messaging platforms. In this context, there are a multitude of possible definitions which can lead to confusion about what a chatbot is. This is because there are a variety of use cases and this can affect how one perceives a chatbot.
The most obvious definition is that a chatbot consists of software capable of maintaining a coherent conversation with a human being. For example, if a user asks the bot a question and gives it an instruction, the bot provides an answer or performs an action. However, this definition can lead to misinterpretations. The biggest myth being that a chatbot can conduct a conversation just like a human. A software or a robot that speaks with natural language is not so difficult to imagine and science fiction gives us many examples. Although this is the ultimate goal, it is simply not possible with the technologies that currently exist.
Basically, two families of chatbots can be identified:
- Simple chatbots: They work on a database of pre-configured matches (keywords and answer). For each keyword, there is a match with the response message to be provided. Each message that the user sends is textually analyzed by the chatbot. The chatbot then searches for a match in its database of predefined keywords and regular expressions. If it finds a match, then the chatbot provides the appropriate response. If the user formulates a question or a command that does not exist in the correspondence database, then the chatbot replies with a generic message such as “sorry, I did not understand”.
- Intelligent chatbots: These chatbots rely on artificial intelligence and more concretely on “deep learning” in the analysis of the message sent by the user. This method allows the chatbot to predict the intent, topic, and even sentiment of the message without having to list every possible scenario. The chatbot predicts the entities that characterize the message with a level of confidence that varies in percentage. This of course requires prior training of the AI for it to be able to give good results.
Moreover, the chatbot does not only communicate by voice or text. Currently, chatbots also interact through graphical interfaces or widgets to enrich the conversational experience. Several platforms such as WeChat or Facebook Messenger allow webviews to allow developers to create personalized graphical interfaces directly in the messaging application without having to redirect the user to another application or web page.
It should be noted that the chatbot is not a recent phenomenon! They did exist before and especially at the time of IRC, one of the most used communication protocols on the Internet in the 90s. So why have chatbots become a trend today?
The evolution of artificial intelligence and social networks are key factors that have led to the re-emergence of chatbots. Today, the number of users of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, and Skype is skyrocketing. Facebook Messenger alone has over 1.2 billion users. Companies are then starting to take an interest in this new communication channel to deploy chatbots in order to increase sales, do marketing and provide customer support. Chatbots can already schedule doctor’s appointments, call a taxi, send money to friends, book a flight and many more.
Chatbots save time and effort by automating customer support, for example. Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than 85% of customer communication will be handled without human intervention. However, the possibilities offered by chatbot systems go far beyond giving answers to customers. They are also used as a means of entertainment and distraction. It’s no wonder the size of the chatbot market is growing exponentially.
Consumers are also benefiting from chatbots and are using them more and more. A study titled “Why do people use chatbots?” published in November 2017 in the 4th edition of the “Internet Science” conference identifies the reasons why people choose to interact with chatbots. According to this study, the main factors that motivate people to use chatbots are:
- Productivity: 41-42% of respondents say chatbots provide quick and efficient assistance and access to information. Some claim that they would rather chat with a chatbot than with a human being for fear of being intimidated.
- Entertainment: 20% of respondents use chatbots as a means of entertainment. Chatbots amuse people with funny messages. These chatbots are used as a distraction for people who want to hang out.
- Social: Chatbots enhance social experiences. Communicating with bots helps to remedy the loneliness of some and gives others the chance to discuss without fear of being judged. Some chatbots can improve skills such as helping to learn foreign languages.
- Curiosity: The trend of chatbots is causing curiosity among internet users. People always want to try something new.
Chatbots potentially represent a new paradigm in how people interact with services and data in the future. Currently, there is not enough empirical investigation capable of explaining why people use chatbots.
Finally, many businesses are just beginning to understand the benefits that chatbots can bring them. This technology is still at an early stage, its capabilities continue to increase, and the best chatbots have yet to be created. Invest in the development of a chatbot for your business and be at the forefront of innovation!