I am literally in the subway, after a nice day at work and a tough training session at the gym. It is 10pm and I am actually reflecting about the experience I had so far with… chatbots. You know this new tool that is gradually arriving in our life, whether it is to advise us on how to use an app, for example Slack, or to answer our questions with more or less precision so far such as, “where is the closest burger restaurant” or “when is the next plane to Rio”.
Incredibly this technology, even being at its early stage starts to be deployed on a large scale and it is now easy to find website that promotes solutions to create your own chatbot and even guidebooks to help you to create your chatbot using api.ai which allow you to create conversational experience i.e. “chatbot” in normal language!
The point now is that chatbot are step by step invading our life, whether it is on a professional or personal side.
It is difficult to tell, so far, what will be the consequences of the use of chatbots but we already have some signs of what it will change in the near future.
For example, I tried the Watson chatbot, that you can also test on this site. You are placed in a car (imagine a self-driving car, it is more fun) and Watson is your co-pilot. You can for example ask him to drive you to the next gas station, or to find your favorite restaurant. In this way it looks like a Siri.
Now let’s take another example. Think about an e-commerce website, in which you want to include a conversational tool to help your customers to find the ideal product..here again, you can build a chatbot to do so and give a direct and smooth experience to your online customer at anytime. It is for example what is promoted by Amit Kothari, Rania Zyane and Joshua Hoover in their book “Chatbots for e-commerce” in which the chatbots are used as shopping assistant.
And as a last example, you are working in a company and want to know about one of the service provided to you by the company. You may not know where to look to find that service, and above all, you are home and it is late, and that’s where the chatbot will help. You can use it as an assistant to help you to find the service you need.
Now let’s be fair. For any advantage you can find some drawbacks. Will it change the way we work so much that the assistant position we know today will be replaced by chatbots? I still doubt of it. The chatbot could also be a super assistant that could facilitate some of the administrative work we do in a day.
A bigger drawback to me could be the way our data are managed. Specially about what you do and how the chatbot can lead your choices. Because everything will depend on the way the chatbot will be set up.
This will create new jobs, that is for sure. We may see chatbot specialist arriving on the job market, and together with it, some new administration role in which technicians will manage a site, an app and the chatbot that goes with it. This is already starting as we speak.
The only point that will remain is about the conscious and unconscious bias that may happen in the decision process between the person and the chatbot and how far the chatbot will drive the decision.
Let’s take an example. Again for my restaurant, if I want an Italian restaurant and ask for it, but there is a coupon on the next burger restaurant and this is promoted in my chatbot due to a commercial agreement between my chatbot provider and the burger restaurant. There is still a subtle possibility for my decision to be unconsciously oriented on chosing the burger. I still decide, but not alone.
To conclude, I think chatbots are a very concrete evolution of Artificial Intelligence. They are a new step in creating a new type of technology that is close to an assistant, a support to Humans. The only limit will be the decision we take to set up this tool and how far we will allow this tool to drive our decisions. The moment to use chatbots in our day to day life is very close, and still, a lot of questions are opened. It is our reponsibility to decide of what answer we want to give in order to build a sustainable and responsible future.