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What is a Chatbot and how can it Change your Business?

It’s doubt­ful that many (if any) of our read­ers are con­tem­plat­ing or pur­su­ing a career in low-lev­el cus­tomer ser­vice, such as tak­ing orders at a fast food restau­rant or work­ing at a call cen­ter answer­ing the most mun­dane ques­tions that con­sumers can think of. If I’m wrong and that’s exact­ly the career path you’ve cho­sen, I apol­o­gize for mak­ing assump­tions. But I also have bad news for you — those jobs won’t be done by humans much longer, Chat­bot is the new king, so you might want to rethink your strategy.

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, that pie-in-the-sky dream that start­ed with Alan Tur­ing years ago, best imag­ined in ideas like the com­put­er on the Enter­prise in Star Trek or the fright­en­ing HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey, is almost here. And by almost here, I mean it’s just down the block, already turn­ing down the radio and slow­ing it’s speed to turn into your dri­ve­way. Like, real­ly close. But if you instant­ly think of Big Blue play­ing chess, you still don’t real­ize how much AI has creeped into our world. You’ve actu­al­ly prob­a­bly been using an ear­ly ver­sion for a few years now.

That is, if you have a smart­phone. Which I’m assum­ing you prob­a­bly do. Siri, “OK Google”, Cor­tana, these are all ear­ly ver­sions of what is com­ing, and they’re now used more wide­ly than many know in the form of what are called chat­bot. Chat apps have pret­ty much tak­en over the dai­ly lives of mil­lions upon mil­lions of peo­ple. Between Face­book Mes­sen­ger, What­sApp, Kik, Slack, and any num­ber of oth­er options, you like­ly use one to com­mu­ni­cate instead of good old sms or (heav­en for­bid!) actu­al­ly talk­ing on the phone.

But these chat apps aren’t only pop­u­lat­ed by humans. Thou­sands of chat­bots are also inhab­it­ing the chat space, tak­ing care of the mun­dane tasks that humans used to have to do all on their own. Like tak­ing your Taco Bell or Burg­er King order, or telling you what’s play­ing at the local movie the­ater. They’re every­where now, they’re get­ting bet­ter at what they do, and they’re replac­ing the need for humans in low-lev­el cus­tomer ser­vice roles. Pret­ty soon, they could move well beyond low-level.

Chat­bots are, as I’ve said, the pre­cur­sor to full-blown AI appli­ca­tions that will even­tu­al­ly be vir­tu­al­ly indis­tin­guish­able from humans when it comes to inter­ac­tion. Right now they are lim­it­ed in scope. For instance, how much intel­li­gence does it require to take a piz­za order? Pick a size, pick a crust, pick your top­pings, and bam — order tak­en. Which is why many piz­za places are already start­ing to use a chat­bot to replace teenagers at the counter doing the same thing for more money.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, chabots are also pret­ty inex­pen­sive to deploy, which is why the busi­ness is book­ing right now. Almost any small busi­ness can afford to launch a chat­bot to han­dle answer­ing ques­tions like “when will my order be deliv­ered” or “what hours are you open”. They can even be used to boost sales, and before long they’ll be able to rec­og­nize the emo­tion­al state of the human their inter­act­ing with and respond accordingly.

So if your dream of being a McDon­ald’s cashier has been shat­tered by this rev­e­la­tion, maybe you should learn how to code chat­bots. It’s one of the most explo­sive oppor­tu­ni­ties ion tech­nol­o­gy right now, and it’s just get­ting started.

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