The Promise of Chatbots: Personal Assistants Are No Longer Just for the Rich

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@matthewbigginsMatthew Biggins

A young woman sees a new brunch spot as she walks down the road. It’s just the place her friend would love to try. She pulls out her phone and starts typing a message, not to her friend, but to her personal assistant — her personal Chatbot.

“Let’s do brunch with @Sam at the new place on 1st St. this weekend.”

She slips her phone back in her pocket and continues on her way. Behind the scenes her and Sam’s Chatbots coordinate to find a time and then book a table for 2. 10 minutes later she receives a calendar invite for brunch this weekend, now all she has to do is show up.

This scenario is just an inkling of what will be possible when messaging applications fully utilize Chatbots. The current developments in messaging applications are focusing on building ecosystems. China’s WeChat is at the forefront of this. They connect shops, restaurants, and other people to users through social, payments, and messages for example. This video does a good job outlining WeChat capabilities.

It will take years for most of those features to become ingrained in the West, but they are coming. It will be fascinating to see how closely they emulate the WeChat model. And while these new developments are ripe for discussion (and a startup or two), this post will focus on how Chatbots will develop in this new paradigm.

Facebook, Google, and Apple are all building more immersive messaging ecosystems, however, the approach to digital personal assistant, or Chatbots, stands out. Facebook’s Messenger ecosystem includes M, an AI-human assistant for accomplishing tasks. And the Google Assistant in Allo acts as a member of a conversation to help a group plan dinner or find funny cat videos. In the next few years this digital assistant trend points to a more seamless integration of services from order flowers for Mother’s Day (hint hint) to buying concert tickets.

Currently Chatbots are in their infancy. Businesses, not just tech companies, are starting to use them for simple transactions: from the somewhat comical usage of Slack to order Taco Bell to the practical flying experience by KLM. Then there was Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg who built a personal AI to cater to his needs.

The development of Chatbots, I believe, will be in two phases.

1) Companies will build out robust bots for consumers to interact with through messaging applications.

2) The messaging applications will have a bot for each individual consumer. These will act as personal assistants. They will interact with other Chatbots and people initially before expanding to act on our behalf in any online-based activity.

We are in phase one right now. Automated bots exist and we can chat with them ourselves. For example, here are five companies with compelling bot experiences. These and other Chatbots are becoming increasingly powerful because of advancements in AI and Natural Language Processing, which allow computers to understand human speech (verbal or written) accurately and within context. The Google Home does a great job showcasing this.

While individual Chatbots able to understand context are incredibly beneficial, they still require major user involvement. This leads us to the second phase, where users will be able to delegate all their action to a personal assistant. This will make accomplishing tasks or organizing events far less time-intensive.

Phase two illustrated through two scenarios.

Imagine you ordered an Uber, but the driver cancelled. Your personal bot will see this and quickly book a Lyft to the same location. Your bot also knows that you are headed to a dinner. So she (he, it?) notifies the restaurant’s reservation system of your new arrival time and messages the friend you are meeting, all without you having to lift a finger.

Or imagine you want to make plans for the weekend — just have your personal assistant do it. Let your bot know what you’re looking to do, something outside in the beautiful weather for example. The bot will go to work crawling online resources for events happening, find the top ones that fit your interests, and identify potential people to go with. Give your bot the okay and it will make all the necessary arrangements, all you have to do is show up.

The point of these scenarios is to illustrate how personal Chatbots will be better than the present-day personal assistants that cater to the rich and famous. Chatbots will be faster, more accurate, and less expensive (read free). It is insane to think about, but we will all have our own digital personal assistant that knows us extremely well and works on our behalf. Think of this as the culmination of Google Now, introduced nearly 5 years ago.

Of course, there are major privacy considerations that must be addressed, but the purpose of this article is to craft a story about the good future personal Chatbots will bring. Speaking to privacy concerns is a whole different topic in itself.

So next time you’re making plans and jokingly say “I’ll have my people talk to your people,” just know we aren’t too far off from that being reality, except it won’t be people it’ll be Chatbots.

TechCrunch

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