What is a Chatbot Anyway?

A chatbot is a service that simulates a conversation with a human by leveraging artificial intelligence and natural language processing. These bots help organizations provide targeted, proactive user experiences while increasing revenue and user engagement. They can range from functional to fun, run on a variety of different platforms, and provide a near limitless number of services. Some industry leaders are even predicting that bots will replace websites and applications entirely.

A Brief History

The earliest natural language processing computer programs emerged in the mid-1960s. These programs evolved slowly over the next few decades until the late nineties when Microsoft bundled their talking paperclip assistant, Clippy, with Microsoft Office. Clippy’s functionality was novel at the time, but was limited to simple question-and-answer responses. It wasn’t until early 2016 that chatbots really began to gain momentum.

Google Trends — Interest in Chatbots

At the start of 2016, chatbots were heralded as the next stage of the conversational revolution and companies raced to market with buzzword-driven headlines. Facebook further galvanized this movement with its April 2016 announcement of support for artificial intelligence in its Messenger system.

There was an explosion of development following that announcement that continued on into 2017 with mixed results. The excitement cooled quickly as companies over-promised and under-delivered on the capabilities of their early chatbots. The rush to be first-to-market led to under-thought-out solutions that were poorly implemented.

In late 2017, Facebook announced that they were “refocusing their use of AI” after their bots hit a failure rate of about 70 percent, with only 30 percent of requests succeeding without some sort of human intervention. Many brands began dropping their bots, claiming that they weren’t accomplishing their goals. Headlines heralding the end of chatbots spread across the tech landscape making many pause to reconsider.

Suffice it to say, chatbots have been around for longer than many may realize. With both positive and negative outcomes, chatbots and AI can be intimidating; however, when developed and implemented correctly, this innovation will streamline the way communities receive information. In our next blog about chatbots, we’ll discuss the chatbot hype-cycle and what the future holds for the technology.