At the last count, on Facebook alone, there are over 30,000 chatbots chatting to millions of people around the globe. Artificial intelligence is creating a new world of interconnection where machines will rise – and Arnie’s too old to save us! Chatbots are taking over, but don’t worry, they’re mostly here to help. There are two distinct categories of chatbot – virtual assistants, and the ones that reply to you in messaging apps.

Messaging Apps

The messaging app chatbots are essentially there to allow brands to have an online presence 24/7. They can answer basic questions, supply you with information on request and you can have fun typing in silly things to see what they say. The great thing about these bots is that they allow you to get information in a more natural way.

Travel site, Kayak, have developed a chatbot which allows you to just type into Messenger, “I want to go to Barcelona next week” and it will give you some options. You can be super vague: “Where can I go for £300?” It’ll tut and ruminate over the imprecision of the human mind, but you’ll get an answer. It feels like a conversation.

Forksy is good for calorie counters. Rather than search for what you’ve eaten on a tedious list and swap the app for a Snickers bar three days later, Forsky lets you type in, “I’ve had a cheese and jam sandwich and packet of crisps, sorry Forksy,” and it’ll work it out for you. It may not be as accurate as selecting the exact item from a list, but it won’t be far off.

Messaging app bots have also been useful for business to business purposes. Venture Harbour put together a chatbot to help work out the best hosting provider for a business’s needs. They analysed various hosting providers, and then used the data from the analysis to develop Winnie.

Over 1.4 billion people used messaging apps last year and that figure is rising every year. Brands are inevitably wanting to tap into that audience, and as it would seem that people are happy to talk to chatbots, this is obviously an area that more are wanting take advantage of. They have not worked for all brands though, as some have found their chatbots falling flat; but as the artificial intelligence behind them gets smarter, more complex tasks will be carried out by chatbots, making them more and more useful.

These messaging chatbots are good, but the real cleverness comes from virtual assistants.

Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants have names like Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant (come on Google where’s the fancy name?). These chatbots listen to you and actually pay attention to what you say. If you have teenage daughters, you’ll know what a gift that is. These assistants can book flights, tell you the population of Tuvalu, play music and all that other stuff we now take for granted. You can talk to them, but the real magic will begin when all the chatbots start talking to each other.

Here’s a typical made-up future scenario.

You’re coming home from work, you tell your car to switch on the house lights and the oven. You get home, you shout at the house to tell Spotify to play your ‘Thank heavens that day’s over’ playlist and then your fridge says you need more milk, so you tell the toaster to order it… etc… etc.

We can only hope that there will be a global ‘leave me alone’ command!

The main goal of all these virtual assistant companies over the next few years is to establish a device ecosystem. If your fridge is a Siri fridge then, for convenience, you’ll want all the rest of your devices to be Siri as well. Google have launched Android Things to allow other companies to incorporate Google Assistant into their products.

By 2020, it’s estimated there will be 20 billion connected devices around the planet. Chatbots are becoming smarter, their ability to hold a human-level conversation is increasing every year. Chatbots are not only taking over the Internet, they’re moving rapidly into the real world.