You’ve probably heard about bots a lot lately, how they are here to make our lives easier and replace apps. despite being around since the beginnings of the Internet, they are getting their time in the spotlight.
What is a bot?
A bot is software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own, like making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar or fetching and displaying information. The increasingly common form of bots, chatbots, simulate conversation. They often live inside messaging apps — or are at least designed to look that way — and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human.
What do bots do?
Some bots are used to handle a variety of customer service requests, which would normally require a telephone call to a human agent. Bots like X.ai can help schedule your meetings for you. Simply add the bot to your email thread, and it will take over back-and-forth conversation needed to schedule a meeting, alert you once it’s been arranged and add it to your calendar. As bot technology improves, the thinking is that bots will be able to automate all kinds of things; perhaps even something as complex as your taxes.
Who is building these bots?
Many of the same companies that are building the apps that you use on your phones are building bots. A bunch of big companies are betting big on bots, including Microsoft and Slack,
Google, the company with perhaps the greatest artificial intelligence chops and the biggest collection of data about you — both of which power effective bots — has been behind here. But it is almost certainly plotting ways to catch up. Google Now, its personal assistant system built within Android, serves many functions of the new wave of bots, but has had hiccups. The company is reportedly working on a chatbot that will live in a mobile messaging product and is experimenting with ways to integrate Now deeper with search.
What’s the business model for bots?
There are obvious revenue opportunities around subscriptions, advertising and commerce. If bots are designed to save you time that you’d normally spend on mundane tasks or interactions, it’s possible they’ll seem valuable enough to justify a subscription fee. If bots start to replace some of the functions that you’d normally use a search engine like Google for, it’s easy to imagine some sort of advertising component. Or if bots help you shop, the bot-maker could arrange for a commission.
Part of the appeal of bots is that they simply automate things that companies are currently paying humans to do. So some value may be more about cost savings than new revenue streams.
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