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The Rise of the Chatbots - Chatbot? ChatWhat?

I recently read an article that highlighted 25 new start-up’s focused on chatbot solutions; from this list I noted a UK-based start-up called Cyra), an AI based recruitment solution that is currently in beta testing phase — I have asked to sign-up for the trial and I am currently awaiting a response. Additionally, there was also a USA based start-up offering an automated chatbot to target the rise of freelancer work; called TARA.

Recruitment industry beware?

Among the start-ups listed, mainly based in the USA, where chatbot solutions for automated assistance, customer service, conversational commerce to encourage you to purchase products via text message, personal shopping assistants, marketing & communications and even a proposition that allows you to ‘create avatars of themselves that learn their speech patterns and life stories, and can then converse with loved ones after death’.

It would appear that the integration of AI algorithms and chatbots are on the rise.

Siri who?

The discovery of the aforementioned start-up was a catalyst for further exploration of AI and/ or chatbot solutions, and more specifically, stories of success. The most obvious AI assistant that is often overlooked is ‘Siri’, the ‘intelligent personal assistant’ and ‘knowledge navigator’ according to Apple, its maker when it introduced Siri to the world in 2011 on the iPhone 4S utilising iOS 5.

Apple’s use of a natural language user interface to answer individual’s questions and perform actions, through delegation to a set of web services, then begins to learn an individual’s preferences with the aim of starting to return personalised recommendations. Now to the question, is Siri a success?

Siri, are you a success?

If you ask Apple, definitively, the answer will be ‘yes’. If you ask the consumer (*you and I), the answer may be slightly more polarised; for Apple fans, you will find numerous forums and blog sites advocating the advances of Apple technology, however, back in 2012 if you asked some English speakers with ‘distinctive accents’, they would have expressed frustration at the results returned by Siri owing to a lack of being to comprehend the language and intonation.

Apple’s response was that “as more people use Siri and it’s exposed to more variations of a language, its overall recognition of dialects and accents will continue to improve, and Siri will work even better.” Not exactly success, however, not exactly a disaster either; also, this was 4 years ago and the current iteration of Siri seems to be an accepted companion with each iPhone release. Personally, I find using Siri useful and the social self-consciousnesses of talking to my phone subsided pretty quickly after a few weeks of use.

AI and your money

The first word that springs to mind is ‘trust’ — do you trust an AI, and not a person, to have access to your bank account? I have to admit to pausing before committing to the sending the ‘OK’ message I had typed out in Messenger to allow Cleo, an ‘intelligent assistant for your money’, access to my UK bank account on a ‘read-only’ basis. Even with the claim that ‘she’ said she was built with ‘military-grade security standards and uses 256-bit encryption, I still felt very reserved about allowing an unknown entity access to ‘my money’.

So after the ‘brief pause’ (*the time it took to make a cup of tea and contemplate the loss of all the money in my bank account), the on-boarding experience was initially very engaging (*apart from when I forgot my bank account app password — iTouch/Touch ID has completed removed the need for me to remember). Then came the interaction with Cleo once she had access to my account; the responsiveness is a positive and she can see all the information and data my bank app holds — however, I think that’s the challenge, the quality of the data my bank provides is not contextually sufficient for my needs. With this in mind, I think the increased volumes of in-app purchasing, social media commerce and the ability to book, purchase and bank in messaging services highlights the lack of innovation from established financial service providers.

Rise of the Chatbots?

I think we will see an increased utilisation of chatbots in front line customer services, which I have eluded to in previous posts; the challenge is the ability to return contextually rich results that enhance our experience, however, whether we have the patience to maintain our interest through the ‘learning phase’ in some cases may be the defining factor in success. What is proven is that chatbots can be very effective focused on a specific subject (‘can you tell me how much I have paid out in direct debits this month?’; however, when you broaden the scope of your requests (‘who won the English Premier League last season?’), the response are invariable ‘I didn’t catch that’ with a prompt to ask the question again.

In short, work in progress, however, solid progress being made.

💡 References

Venture Radar — ‘’25 ChatBot Start-up’s You Should Know About"— June 2016

Chu, Henry (February 3, 2012). “Scottish burr beyond Siri’s recognition”. The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved, February 4, 2012.

Metz, Cade — Wired — “A New Chatbot Would Like To Help You With Your Bank Account”— June, 28, 2016


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