Chatbots: Hype or Reality?

Chatbots have long been called amongst the most revolutionary technologies of the future. For years, industry insiders have claimed that Chatbots would soon command over 90% of the online market which involved human interactions, especially in the retail business. While the advantages of Chatbots in retail are already evident, with many firms choosing to employ them to interact with potential customers, the promise that they would make most apps and traditional communication tools obsolete has not transpired thus far. So what can people expect from this exciting new technology over the next few years?

What are Chatbots?

In basic terms, Chatbots are bots that perform an automated task, primarily interacting with people, using either speech or text responses that have been predetermined. While text and voice have been the traditional tools used for Chatbots so far, graphical user interfaces (GUI) can also be used for this purpose. Most people encounter such bots in the form of automated chat boxes that may pop up every time they visit a website that belongs to the retail or service industry. These chat boxes are based on natural language interfaces or speech processing software, and are programmed to identify keywords or phrases, which are then linked to predetermined responses for a wide variety of scenarios or conversations.
One of the biggest hurdles facing Chatbots is the public’s understanding of what they really are. Many tend to confuse them with Artificial Intelligence (AI), and while some Chatbots will certainly one day employ this technology, they are inherently different. AI is being developed in order to make computers and computer programs so smart that they may be able to imitate actual human behavior, in contrast to Chatbots which are only meant to be a tool used to interact with humans.

The most convenient usage of Chatbots at the moment is to act like a customer service representative, yet the current technology available has not efficiently been able to employ AI. At the moment, there are two main approaches being used by the majority of firms, either a Rule Based bot, or a Self-Learn bot. The former involves a bot that has been trained on a number of preset responses to specific questions or keywords, while the latter involves some level of machine learning which can be called a simplified version of AI.

A Hitch in the System

Chatbots promise much, yet the hype that was surrounding this revolutionary technology only a few years ago seems to be dying down. Many predicted that industry leaders would soon emerge that would change the tech world forever, however that has not transpired.
One of the biggest issues facing Chatbots today are the limitations in their technology. While specific keywords and questions may be programmed to answer a certain way, they cannot always get the responses quite right, with many examples of Chatbots getting stuck in an irritating loop, as they were unable to generate a suitable solution to their predicament. Now the understandable solution to this limitation is AI. If the computer can be programmed to think like a human, then it can be programmed to be able to act in any situation in a suitably human way, and present responses that are so efficient that they may be mistaken for an actual person. So even if they are presented with a query that they have never faced before, they will have the required ‘mental aptitude’ to provide the best response possible.

What Next?

Technology is evolving all the time and this is true for Chatbots as well. Even though currently the system faces a lot of roadblocks before it can become the universal system that it was envisioned to be in the past, some of the brightest minds in the world are working tirelessly to find a lasting solution.
Due to its obvious advantages for Chatbots, most of the attention is being diverted to developing AI technology. Several major tech giants have made great strides in this department, with virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant a step in the right direction, as well as Google AI and other such projects, including AIBrain, DeepMind and even IBM.
With time, it is expected that such technologies will become commonplace, however it is clear that this will take longer than previously thought. Mimicking human interactions can be complicated, even for some actual human beings, and to expect a computer to do it flawlessly is perhaps a bit immature at the current stage. Nevertheless, whenever the powers that be do figure out the optimal solution, then perhaps Chatbots can finally take their place at the pinnacle of the tech world, and fulfill their great promise once and for all.

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