Chatbots and virtual assistants were technologies on parallel tracks in the early years of their short lives. But, already a natural synergy is pushing them together, more so as Facebook plans to sell smart devices, and chatbot vendors wish to play in environments where there’s no keyboard. 

Facebook is the premier western platform for chatbots, with millions of the bots on Messenger offering customer support, information or advice for businesses and brands, large and small. But with the company soon to launch its own version of an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart device, how will that translate into a voice command world?

For Facebook, the solution is in the “M”, Facebook’s artificial intelligence service. It ran Facebook’s own chatbot until recently, but retooled with the new voice service, it can translate messages into text and likely bring the power and social scope of Messenger to a talkative home bot.

Where Facebook leads, it won’t be long until the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri also link into Messenger services, further blurring the lines between helpful assistant and web-based chatbots and opening up more places where businesses can offer customer support and information services.  Amazon’s Lex lets app builders create voice or text-based chat interfaces for their apps already. Within a year or two, you can expect the two to be indivisible, with voice chats showing up in your text history and so on.

Chatbots Start To Talk

Other bot vendors are also bringing voice options to their products. SnatchBot recently rolled out a voice option to make the tool more flexible for users. There will be times when the user won’t be at a keyboard but still needs to engage with a bot, especially as they become the tool of choice for customer service agents. And there will be times when people don’t want to be talking to a voice assistant, like in the quiet coach on a train or during meetings or some events.

That means chatbots can be installed in keyboardless booths at airports, transit points, tourist zones and others areas, allowing quick conversations to take place with no keyboard or touchscreen that can be easily vandalised or damaged through heavy use.

Businesses can also add a virtual assistant to their front desks, helping visitors check in and workers book meeting rooms and other tasks. Anything that saves a little time and shows the company off as smart and progressive will be warmly received.

New Devices And Chatbots Will Work Brilliantly

A further benefit is that as we move toward a post-smartphone age, people can use chatbot services via their smartwatch, where there’s no room for a keyboard. And, as Amazon already has a wide range of Echo devices with varying formats, it means a bot could be placed in almost any device.

That opens up a whole new world of smart home gadgets like, as one example, smart flower pots. That would allow people who like to talk to their plants to finally have the plants talk back. Conversations about their health, how much light, water or plant food they need could be driven by simple cloud chatbot solutions, making the hardware a low-cost option, making such devices more an impulse purchase rather than the pricey status items of most smart home devices.

This mix of chatbots, virtual assistants, cloud services, and smart devices, perhaps boosted by 5G networks offers a future of great possibilities, making the collective whole so much more powerful than any one element. All of which means chatbots have a massive future, from simple scripted versions for common requests, but located in new places like street furniture or behind a bar, to fully-fledged AI bots capable of performing complex conversations in mission-critical environments.