The Boom and Future of Bots
Chat bots are overtaking the planet.
Or so it seems. Consumers can now book a flight, hail a ride, reserve a hotel room, buy clothes, manage their bank accounts online — now all without ever leaving the convenience of Facebook Messenger.
There is just one tiny fly in the ointment. Bots might be the future, but “the future” accurately describes any and all the time between next week and when Elon Musk successfully colonizes Mars (and beyond).
And while that bot-based future may well be glorious, it isn’t quite here just yet. For a simple reason, the bots are, well, still learning how to interact with humans correctly, and the learning curve has been a bit steeper than some had initially predicted. Said simply, the average bot is just not smarter than a sixth grader.
“Chatbots are primitive. In fact, many of them are primitive to the point of being annoying, if you can figure out how to use them in the first place,” Karen Webster recently wrote of the burgeoning bot hysteria. “Most of the time, I just want to punch Poncho the Weather Cat since all I want is the weather when I ask about the weather. Spare me the cutesy icon that tries to make a joke about it. We take our weather very seriously in Boston. Shopping with a bot is tedious — it takes 20 exchanges to finally get a link to a just-OK pair of black pumps that you have to then go outside the bot to the retailer site to buy.”
And Webster is not alone in these observations. David Marcus, president of Facebook Messenger, whose big bot announcement early this year sent a million developers off to build an army of chatbots, has noted that bots are still in their embryonic phase and will need to undergo several rounds of evolution before they become a truly useful and desirable part of the ecosystem. Wired made a similar point over the summer. Bots are at their beginning and, as such, work better in concept that in actuality.