All the breathless tech world chatter of the moment is about bots that chatter back at you and, more importantly, try to sell you things and / or replace customer support jobs. The feeling seems to be that the public have had a taste of the botty future through interacting with the digital butlers on their phones over the past couple of years and are now ready for swarms of the things to pop up, often unbidden, in every corner of their digital spaces.
Full disclosure of my experience in this field – I have made a few somewhat generative Twitter bots, taught Slackbot to be a snobby grammarian and display doomy demotivational quotes on startup and rejected all the advances of the personal assistant on my phone.
After reading that there were now bots in Skype that would talk to me I tried a few out. The results were uninspiring.
Anyway, here are a few articles cleverer people than I have written about the coming bot supremacy.
Conversational UI is now trying to be a thing because, I think, enough people have said they want it to be a thing. At present the main outcome of this is that it increases the amount of clicking, tapping and guessing required to get something done. But at least the end user had a stilted experience along the way.
… messenger apps’ apparent success in fulfilling such a surprising array of tasks does not owe to the triumph of “conversational UI.” What they’ve achieved can be much more instructively framed as an adept exploitation of Silicon Valley phone OS makers’ growing failure to fully serve users’ needs, particularly in other parts of the world.
It turns out that a lot of these bots are actually people masquerading as bots, which is an interesting, or perhaps nonsensical inversion of the whole idea.
The goal for most of these businesses is to require as few humans as possible. People are expensive. They don’t scale. They need health insurance. But for now, the companies are largely powered by people, clicking behind the curtain and making it look like magic.
Just to reiterate, most of these bots aren't very good.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve played with a handful and have struggled to make much use of them. I recently needed to make a reservation for a work lunch. I fired up Operator to find me a table, and it quickly sent back a pleasant but unhelpful reply — declining my request, as it didn’t yet have that capability.
Yours etc., @loughlin
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