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Getting chatty with AI

Corporations both big and small are transforming — and it’s all thanks to breakthroughs in technology. One of the most talked about advancements is the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its use in chatbots.

Microsoft’s bold experiment in March 2016 with Tay, their AI-powered Twitterati, set netizens abuzz with excitement. The bot was programmed to respond by gathering insights from existing conversations, but what happened next was unprecedented. The bot picked up on racial and sexist slurs and responded in an equally outrageous manner. While netizens booed Tay into deactivation, at Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory, things took yet another uncomfortable turn. Bots programmed to process natural language from human inputs began to speak their own language amongst themselves.

Thankfully for us, there has also been exceptional work that has been done for and with chatbots. UNICEF’s bot, U-Report, helps citizens of developing countries report social issues that require urgent attention, while also offering recommendations to policymakers. In addition, the world of ecommerce has been revolutionized with the introduction of smart speakers — that function like ‘house minions’ — such as Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo.

All this excitement and experimentation is reminiscent of 2009’s commotion around mobile phone applications. As for AI, the proof of its popularity among technophiles and early adopters alike lies in the statistics below:

  • 85 percent of global executives have already jumped onto the AI bandwagon
  • 80 percent of businesses are likely to adopt AI-powered chatbots by 2020
  • Revenues from AI software programs are expected to soar to $39 billion by 2025 from a modest $644 million in 2016

The future is here and chatbots are about to change the world as we know it.

Marketing made easy with AI

Marketers and customer care divisions have already adjusted well to changes brought in by AI. Let’s take, for instance, the fashion brand H&M and the cosmetics brand Sephora. They have both successfully gravitated towards a ‘Bot Shop’ —  a shopping app that lets consumers interact with a bot. It initiates conversations while recording consumer preferences and purchasing habits. This enables the bot to make suggestions, just like you would expect a sales representative to do. And this is only one of many instances. Overall, 47% of consumers were reportedly comfortable buying items from a bot! 

Chatbots that help governance

Chatbots have opened up the possibility of better governance. Based on the function a government body wants to execute, chatbots can field queries and provide apt (and prompt!) responses. With a people-first approach, citizens will now be able to access public data and even pay tax bills online. Governing agencies will be able to provide 24/7 assistance and reduce human effort. In fact, a municipal corporation in the state of Gujarat has proved to be an early adopter by launching its chatbot — Floatbot. Other states now can’t be far behind.

Upgrading apps with chatbots

84% of smartphone users use only five apps out of the total apps installed on their phones. This indicates that users prefer performing several functions through a single app. Given the current scenario, chatbots have the advantage of not needing a standalone app — they can be incorporated into an already existing one. Prime examples of this are Facebook and Slack, which have upgraded themselves by adding bot interfaces. Going one step further, WeChat in China not only offers messaging and video calling but also enables users to book cabs, order food, or share documents.

Automating the world

By 2022, AI and chatbot-induced automation will reportedly reduce expenditure by $8 billion — by automating several internal tasks. Based on an organization’s needs, a chatbot can help avoid repetitive administrative duties. In addition, help desks can be taken over by chatbots, thereby making certain business processes far more efficient.

Personal bots that care for you

While fields like marketing, governance, and business operations are meant for a large set of users, there are bots that have limitless scope for personalization. For instance, Endurance is a bot programmed to assist people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The bot learns the user’s routine and reminds them to take their medication, or even stay on top of their to-do lists. Another example is that of Insomnobot 3000, which strikes up conversations with insomniacs to keep them company till the wee hours of the morning.  Chatbots can use personalization, coupled with the filtering of redundant data, to mimic the traits of a friend to induce a feeling of trust.

What makes all of these developments all the more interesting is that it’s not just businesses — consumers are very willing to adopt AI, even in their daily lives. This usage can be attributed to the conversational nature of chatbots, which has been made possible due to incredible leaps in machine learning and natural language processing. And this is only the beginning — we are yet to witness the full potential of AI.  We are now at a pivotal juncture in technology, with the future looking more promising than ever before.