2017: Battle of the Bots

If there is one thing that you can count on in the tech world, it is that everything will change. A year or two ago, it was all about the apps. While it is true that apps are still important for engaging customers, increasing employee productivity and marketing your brand, bots appear to be poised to become a true game-changer.

How Bots Fared in 2016

Last year was a learning experience for bot developers and organizations eager to harness yet another innovative technology. During 2016, more than 30,000 developers embarked on a journey through the world of bots. They analyzed, experimented and pushed themselves to learn what might be possible with bots. Some succeeded, but others failed. Most developers learned more about machine learning and natural language processing with every bot developed.

Two bots that were considered to be major successes in 2016 were Google Home and Amazon’s Echo. Google Home features a voice-activated speaker that will answer questions similar to those that Siri fields. If the user wants to know the weather forecast, catch up on the news, check traffic conditions or find out the results of last night’s game, all he or she needs to do is ask. If it is time for music, a voice request can start a playlist from Spotify or other music services. Google Home also connects with smart devices like Nest, Philips Hue and Chromecast, allowing users to adjust the thermostat, send a program from Netflix to the television or control the lighting with just a voice command.

Echo uses a smart speaker to connect to Alexa, the intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon Labs. When the “wake word” is spoken, Echo comes to life. Like Google Home, Echo can stream music, provide weather information and support various smart devices. Third-party apps can increase Echo’s capabilities, offering the ability to order a pizza, answer certain questions, set an alarm and much more.

Last year also saw some spectacular bot failures. One of the most noteworthy was Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatterbot that learned all the wrong things. Microsoft unleashed Tay on Twitter, but in less than 18 hours, the company had to pull the plug. It seems that Tay began tweeting phrases that were politically incorrect, thanks to trolls who thought it would be amusing to exploit the bot’s “repeat after me” functionality. Tay’s debut proved to be a public relations fiasco that was only exacerbated when the bot was inadvertently re-released a few days later during testing. Tay’s successor, Zo, was released in December 2016 — but not on Twitter.

Different Types of Bots

Although chatbots have received the most attention, there are several other types of bots that are currently in use. For example, spider bots crawl the web to help search engines index and rank pages. Media bots provide weather, sports and news updates. Trading bots search online auction sites to find the best price on a specific service or product.

What Is In Store During 2017?

Bot developers are going to become even more adept at managing users’ expectations and creating bots that display emotional intelligence. Look for bots to become better at demonstrating empathy, gauging the user’s emotional state and achieving specific tasks. Chatbots will make it easier to offer personalized customer experiences, manage real-time communications and promote a brand. Expect to see bots used for omnichannel communications, engagement and customer support. The key players are already hard at work to carve out their place in the world of bots. For example, Google is returning to the team collaboration space with Hangouts Chat, apparently to take on Microsoft Teams, Slack, Cisco Spark and Workplace by Facebook. Google has also developed @meet, a bot that can schedule meetings for the user.

Parting Thoughts

The technology is now available to transform content and brand marketing by helping companies identify sources of potential growth, gain insight into consumer behaviors and provide engaging customer experiences. Bots are going to be an important part of building relationships. They will increasingly function as a brand ambassador, allowing customers to feel that they are being treated as unique individuals. As is the case with every disruptive technology, the pioneers who adopt bots early stand to gain the most.

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