We’ve been living in the uncanny valley – that netherworld where bots have been so close to being human it’s eerie, but not close enough to be useful and natural. Now we have Siri, Alexa, Viv, Cortana, Watson, Tara, Jarvis, and Google Assistant among many others, which are basically an extension of virtual personal assistants, that have broken into that uncanny valley.
By virtue of their blatant existence as bots, we have a different relationship with them – and are less likely to be freaked out by the interactions if they don’t understand some basic things, though at the same time with the developing expectation that they will remember us. And if they don’t remember us, they’re probably still in that uncanny valley.
Virtual assistants powered by microcontent
Many chatbots are just the next generation of virtual personal assistants. Virtual private assistants are all about predicting your needs based on past behavior, so chatbots should do the same, and then some. Right now they are light years better than a phone tree or interactive voice response (IVR), but chatbots don’t know how to act naturally; there is no perfect use case yet. There is surely another way of doing it, developers just haven’t cracked it.
What bots can do is continuously learn to serve the customer better, with the right content – access to which is enabled by microcontent that is semantically rich – and provide context to interactions with users. They should be able to query all bots simultaneously, understand your general question and know exactly where to go for the answer – across apps, across engines, across sites, across information sources. Microcontent makes this possible.
There are plenty of bots that demo well, but the jury is still out on how useful they are on an everyday basis. If they don’t recognize the sentence structure, they don’t understand the query. And having to feed a bot exactly the right language it would understand to be able to get the result you’re looking for, having to know the magic words, is a road to nowhere.
Mass adoption coming soon
There is a ton of benefit from bot interactions, despite their friction points. Eventually those will be overcome and bots will reach true mass adoption as GAFA (otherwise known as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon – the juggernauts of Silicon Valley) is anticipating, but we aren’t there yet and no one knows when we will be. AI is informing the next wave of bots, but the current incarnation is still in its infancy, though IBM’s Watson at the forefront is surely one to watch. According to Aspect Consumer Index, 40 percent of consumers would prefer to use a messaging app than make a phone call.1 And at this rate of development, that number is poised to go way up.
So what's next for bots? There’s certainly a lot of hype surrounding them, and the advancement of bots in the last few years has sped up exponentially when you consider that the first bot was invented in the 1960s and there were only very few since then relatively until the landscape exploded a few years ago. There are thousands of chatbots, and soon maybe even a bot store on Facebook Messenger.2 It’s a case of everything old is new again – just with expanded domains, increased vocabulary, deep learning, and AI.
Time will tell whether the chatbots of tomorrow will fulfill the vast potential they’ve been invested with. Some will succeed and many will fail. A hundred different companies will do it a hundred different ways – one of them will nail it and get that competitive advantage.
Still, if the past is any indication of the future, what the industry thinks is the next big thing (or in this case, that the next big thing has arrived), often turns out very differently. Someone will always come along with an “aha” moment realization, a new twist, that will change everything.
- Tracey E. Schelmetic, “Your Customers Really Don’t Want to Talk to You on the Tele- phone,” Omni Channel Customer Engagement.com, June 15, 2016.
- Harish Jonnalagadda, “Why talk to a fellow human? Facebook Messenger’s chatbots are much more interactive,” androidcentral.com, July 1, 2016.