If you have been chatting with customer service on hotel or airline website, then there are chances that you have been chatting a machine or AI or a Chat Bot. This is the new normal in the services industry and no matter what you feel about it, the chat bots are evrywhere.
I discovered this by accident when I missed a connecting flight from Chicago in 2015. I had to reach out to my hotel to change the reservations. As I called the help desk at the hotel, the familiar IVR options were replaced by a pleasant sounding male voice, who spoke to me about my reservations and then directed me accordingly. Midway through the conversation I realized this was a bot or AI. Though I immediately thought of Terminator 2 and Skynet, but little did I know that chat bots were going to become a more integral part of our lives.
Back home in India, I was tempted to look up local chat bots available. I was already using Google Now, and then I came across Haptik. I have been using Haptik for a year now and I use their chat bots to set alarms, and take down to-do lists. But the most exciting time I had using Haptik, was when I made the bot search for a collared US Polo T-shirt under Rs 1,000. The Chat Bot was relentless in its search and finally identified and procured the t-shirt for me.
I am not the only one leveraging Chat Bots. In the UK people have been using a chat bot lawyer or a robot lawyer to dispute and successfully upturn parking tickets. Donotpay.co.uk has successfully disputed more than 160,000 traffic tickets saving its users millions of pounds in fines and taxes. Founded by London born Stanford student Joshua Browder, the service has since then expanded to New York and now is being used to find homes for the homeless people in the UK. The bot or robot lawyer asks you a series of questions before it sets up your defense against the police.
Now if this was interesting wait till you hear this. A set of artists in Switzerland decided to host a unique exhibition. This show would exhibit articles bought by a Bot that was asked to buy anything cool on the dark net. The bot was given some bitcoins and then it was sent on its way to purchase these items. It bought some cool and some crazy stuff including, A Lord of the Rings book collection, Chesterfield Cigarettes, A packet of Ecstasy, some Spying Gear and car locksmith tools. You can find the entire list of items bought here.
What amazes me is that bots can make many jobs redundant. So should people be worried ? Not really.
According to Forester, chat bots have good novelty value and are seen as a nuisance after a while. While bots to fight parking ticket is a good use case of how they can be used for specific tasks, outsourcing customer service to bots that lack empathy and cannot make complex decisions is going to backfire and cause massive harm to the reputation of the organization specially in industries like travel, tourism and hospitality.
A good example of the potential dangers of chat bots is the Microsoft Tay (Thinking about You) bot. Released after a similar bot had held 40 million conversations in China, Tay began well but soon started sending out racist and sexually charged conversations in response to other twitter users. It was mimicking what others were telling the bot. 16 hours after its launch Tay was initially suspended and then shutdown.
So chat bots are here to stay and I know a good friend who is trying to get chat bots to support his internal shared services in his organization. But there are limitations to what it can do now at this stage and I am sure with evolution in machine learning and technology chat bots will become more mainstream in the coming years.