Technology companies exhibiting at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas are revealing just how far we’ve come with chatbots. Some of the examples on the showroom floor are the most visible and tangible artificial intelligence (AI) applications in existence.
Chatbots are big for business. Chatbots are what we call the apps of voice or text messaging platforms. Often deployed on the likes of Slack, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, the global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.25bn by 2025, with a compounded growth rate of 24.3%.
What’s the difference between a scripted and AI chatbot?
Chatbots come in two forms: sophisticated AI or natural language bots, and scripted bots. Scripted bots are the ones that have been around for a long time – they are easier to build and mostly used for mobile engagement strategies.
However, AI and machine learning is becoming more common in these applications, giving chatbots the ability to learn like a human – but more effectively.
Intelligent AI-powered chatbot research has resulted in voice-activated devices, with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant functionality shooting into the mainstream and our homes. Now we are talking to technology in a way we only saw possible in sci-fi films like Star Trek.
Why have chatbots become so popular?
Made possible by the cloud, deep learning technologies, automatic speech recognition and natural language processing, AI chatbots can provide engaging conversational experiences through voice and text that can be customized and used on mobile devices, web browsers and chat platforms.
One of the main reasons chatbots are increasing in popularity is down to app fatigue. People are fed up with having to download multiple apps and they are only using a few applications on a regular basis.
AI chatbots solve this problem as they allow users to access multiple services via one messaging app to do to things such as chat with friends, get a takeaway, hail a taxi, buy food and check bank details.
Through AI and machine learning, an AI chatbot can also learn about us and behave like a human would, which has powerful potential.
Why do chatbots matter to your business?
Like most technology that suddenly becomes trendy, the focus has very much been on chatbot use in the consumer world. We easily overlook the fact that AI chatbots can have a powerful impact on the business world. Experts are finding that employees can be more productive and efficient if they can use AI chatbots for both internal enterprise and business-to-business applications.
Analyst firm Gartner is positive about the possibilities that chatbots offer, stating that their broad appeal stems from the efficiency and ease of interaction for employees, customers and other users.
Most chatbots today are text-based but it’s enterprise AI chatbots combined with voice activation that could significantly change and disrupt the way you work. Voice, for example, allows nuances in emotion and language that text just can’t replicate.
From a business point of view, this could humanize enterprises and add a layer of personalization – we have seen this in the consumer world with the popularity of Amazon Echo and systems with Microsoft’s Cortana baked in. Workplace voice-activated AI chatbots could allow you to multi-task – you would not need to physically interact with or see the devices you’re using.
What areas of your business could chatbots improve?
Here are a few examples of how chatbots could support your enterprise.
The automated helpdesk
Specialized chatbots could reduce the number of helpdesk workers your enterprise needs by handling routine requests via an automated chatbot response at all hours of the day.
Internally, this could help services such as IT support, while externally it could be used to respond to queries made by your customers as a replacement to point-and-click on a website.
AI-powered chatbots could also work with your suppliers and vendors by performing actions such as answering simple queries, providing invoice information and sharing payment detail.
HR and recruitment
Your HR team’s processes could be automated with the aid of a chatbot by carrying out actions such as answering employee questions about pay and salary or scheduling time off. You could also use AI-powered chatbots for recruitment, potentially using natural language processing to initially vet and examine candidates.
Software development work is important for many enterprises and chatbots could aid your team’s collaboration through a process called ChatOps. This is where a chatbot is modified to work with key plugins and scripts and can perform routine tasks. Chatbots could be a great option to action tasks that are hard to trigger automatically and that need human consideration to begin their execution.
Advances in AI could allow chatbot assistants to converse with each other, allowing one chatbot to initiate conversations with other bots that have calendar access. Through this virtual conversation, these personal assistant chatbots could find a time that suits multiple calendars without an employee having to go through a manual process in finding a suitable time and date for a meeting.
How do you get started with chatbots?
When considering the use of chatbots, Gartner says you should assess the impact on resources and decide whether you want to use chatbots to “replace” or “empower.” Replacement is easier, as you do not need to consider integration with existing processes, while empowerment could enhance an existing process to make it better for users. Here are some tips you might want to use.
- Evaluate chatbots for possible use in the enterprise
Understand what your business requirements are, how chatbots could apply to business tasks you have, and what they offer your employees when it comes to efficiency and ease of use. What are your current pain points in the business applications you are using?
- Deploy at least one chatbot internally and actively develop bots to assess use
There are already a fair number of enterprise chatbot-building platforms available for you to look at, many of which can be developed without any coding knowledge or maintenance from your technical teams.
Chatbots run on widely available services such as Skype for Business and Slack, though integrating AI functionality will require more technical know-how.
- Understand your budget
Chatbot technology and pricing can vary widely, depending on how complex a system you want to create. A text-based customer Q&A will be cheaper than an AI-powered calendar or booking system for example. You also need to examine whether you are using an in-house development team, self-service platforms or managed service solutions.
- Watch what your users are doing
By closely watching the behavior of people using computers in your workplace, you will be able to understand what kind of business processes would work with the use of chatbots to create effectiveness and efficiency. You need to make sure the chatbots are sophisticated enough to deal with your business requirements.
- Have the right security practices in place
If they are doing their job correctly, your chatbots will need to collect and store data, which demands you have the proper security processes and practices in place. Poorly secured chatbots could put anything from financial information to intellectual property at risk.
What are the ethical considerations of working with AI?
AI is evolving faster than many of us have expected and the fact it can surpass decision-making in certain situations means it has major applications in the business world. High-profile examples include driverless cars, drones and manufacturing robots. In finance, AI could be a great aid in fraud detection, conversational banking and even the stock market with algorithmic trading.
However, this power is causing some alarm, with SpaceX founder Elon Musk claiming AI is “humanity’s greatest existential threat you are We shouldn’t be thinking so much about “military robots taking over the world” but more around how automation might increase the speed of issues we already have such as pollution and resource exhaustion.
In finance, it’s easy to imagine trading houses with super-intelligent technology making themselves richer, distorting the markets and “amplifying financial shocks”.
Until recently, it may have seemed strange to think about the ethical concerns of AI but the topic is more pressing – the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for example, has been working on establishing ethical standards around autonomous and intelligent technologies.
If you are working with AI technology, following a set of standards will help:
- Minimize legal risk and the threat of a PR disaster. With GDPR guidelines for personal data use, you will come into scrutiny on how the technology you develop is applied in the market.
- Become more transparent about your technology. With AI being so powerful, you may be required to be more open about it. Doing so now will prevent future customer trust issues and avoid the need to update your systems in the future at a high cost.
- Build trust with privacy-conscious customers. Increasingly, consumers want to understand systems that are using their data and targeting them with algorithms, meaning more demand for clarity and ethical standards.
How to work responsibly with AI
Kriti Sharma is vice president of AI at Sage. With an increasing number of enterprises working with AI, she says we need to take a step back and ensure the work we do is ethical and responsible.
Here are five values she believes members of the tech community must adopt to develop accountable and fit-for-purpose AI applications.
- AI should reflect the diversity we try to build in our own organizations
We must make sure the algorithms we develop filters bias and negative sentiment that can result in AI-created stereotypes.
- AI and its users must be held to account
Users tend to trust AI after a few meaningful interactions, which means just like humans, AI needs to be held accountable for bad behavior.
- Reward AI for “showing its workings” and good behavior
Developers should think about reinforcement learning measures, based on what AI or robots do to achieve an outcome and how they align with human values to achieve that result.
- AI should level the playing field
It should provide solutions such as voice technology and social robots that can be used by physically disadvantaged people.
- AI should create as well as replace
This means we must take advantage of the new opportunities for humans offered by increased automation.
AI has huge potential to change our personal and business lives for the better. But transformative technology also has its risks if it does not have the right regulations and safeguards. So, let’s make sure we are thinking about the future today, as it’s already here.
Are you thinking of implementing chatbots within your business or are you already using them? Let us know in the comments below.