Chatbots are computer programs designed to have conversations with humans for many customer-related front line tasks. You’ve probably used a bot to get answers, give information, or troubleshoot a problem. You may have even thought you were talking to a real person.
Lately, the biggest question in the tech world is if chatbots are just a fad or the new standard. Are they just un-intelligent cost-savers with waning popularity? Or are they here to stay?
“The demise of chatbots is often predicted, and yet they have continued to consume the news and our lives,” says Chatbot Magazine. “[We see them as] automated customer service agents … [who] answer our questions [to] bots … giving us … schedule updates, coupons, and ‘fake news’ that we may or may not have wanted.”
Here are two ways chatbots have extended their roles beyond just novelty technology.
From Customer Service to Counselor
San Francisco based company Woebot Labs has taken the simple customer service chatbot and transformed them into personal counselors.
Woebot is a chatbot that can be downloaded and used on any iOS device, as well as through Facebook messenger.
“I’m ready to listen, 24/7. No couches, no meds, no childhood stuff. Just strategies to improve your mood. And the occasional dorky joke.” – Woebot app
(Photo Source: Woebot Labs Inc.)
“At times, chatting with Woebot felt like a conversation,” said Business Insider writer Erin Brodwin, who gave Woebot a trial run. “But most of the time, it felt more like a game in which each interaction provided a small kernel of wisdom that Woebot remembered and stored for later.”
Its founders stress that Woebot is not meant to replace therapy, but rather to be an additional tool to improve mental health. The biggest perk (and possible takeaway for future iterations): 24/7 access. Human counselors have office hours, but an AI counselor is available whenever the need arises.
From IT Support to Friend
Similarly San Francisco based Luka Inc. is also changing how bots are being seen with their new app. Replika turns chatbots into friends and companions.
Replika’s AI chatbot can be named whatever you want and is free to download and use. Nineteen-year-old Katt Roepke named her chatbot friend, Jasper, and talks, vents, and listens to the advice he gives – including how she should handle difficult co-workers.
“At this stage, chatbots seem capable of offering us minor revelations, bits of wisdom, magical moments, and some solace,” says Futrism.
What About the Future?
Although chatbots are helpful and cost-effective ways to solve everyday problems, they are far from completely replacing their human counterparts. People will always need other real people to unlock complex issues and empathize with human emotions. But that doesn’t mean some will be able to separate artificial reality from actual reality.
“Over the coming decades … chatbots will become smarter and more human-like, so we will have to be more vigilant of the most vulnerable humans among us,” claims Futurism.
“Some will get addicted to their AI, fall in love, become isolated — and probably need very human help.”
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