Bots are coming! Here's what tech companies are up to

The tech paradigm has been changing, or at least, we are made to believe so. We are slowly yet steadily moving towards bots, and that doesn't necessarily mean away from apps, not yet at least. Leading tech companies who usually decide tech trends have made it clear at their respective annual tech events that bots are coming!

Chatbots can be described as automated programs to help communicate with businesses, and also make purchases online. With tech businesses' increasing interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning, bots are believed to take the centre stage when it comes to users communicating with said businesses. Some even claim that chatbots are the new apps. They are easy and cheap to deploy and maintain and there's no need for end users to install anything on their systems.  The processing and hosting for the service is on the server side. It is the leading tech pack that usually decides the fate of a tech trend. Let's take a quick look at what tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple are up to.

Microsoft

One of the biggest announcements at the Build 2016 keynote was that Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, is betting big on bots. These bots won’t be as racist as Tay, hopefully, but they can be fast, polite, very helpful and, in the long run, better than a human for the same reasons. Basically, they could be on your phone or desktop or other mobile communication devices, helping you book tickets, order pizza, send messages and so on. Nadella clearly put forth his vision on how humans will interact with machines and didn’t seem to be mincing words there. He even went as far as to say that bots could replace apps in the future.

And, they weren't just mere words as the software giant announced a developer portal and SDK for building Bots, a Bot Connector service to connect to social channels like Twitter and Slack and an upcoming Bot Directory to discover and use existing bots. The best part? Everyone can start building their own bots here. Besides, the company introduced Skype Bots in order to use Skype to book trips, shop online, and even schedule a meeting. Skype will chat with Cortana to get things done and Cortana can talk to a third-party chatbot. In fact, we've already seen Skype bots for Westin Hotels & Resorts and Domino’s Pizza.

The company recently announced that it will start taking submissions from developers for its Bot Directory. In fact, the Directory is claimed to have garnered the attention of over 20,000 developers. Microsoft has also planned a Skype bot hackathon in Palo Alto on 21-22 June.

Facebook

It wouldn't be wrong to say that Facebook is leading the pack, at least for now. It was at F8 in April that Zuckerberg opened up its messenger app to developers to build chatbots. In a short span, Facebook Messenger is now said to have 11,000 chatbots for users to try.

It was around the same time that its Facebook M, an AI powered bot, backed by a team with a customer service background, was launched. It's ability to easily make travel arrangements garnered attention. It was also around this time that the social network teamed up with KLM airline passengers, allowing them to make travel changes, check in, get updates and also talk to customer support reps directly from its Messenger chat app. Then there was Lybrate, a Facebook Messenger chatbot, that answers all your health queries.

Facebook Messenger head, Stan Chudnovsky, recently said that tens of thousands of developers are working on developing rich, interactive chatbots. If Facebook is to be believed then over 10,000 developers are working on chatbots with more than 2500 merchants. The most recent to dive into the testing waters is Yatra, the Indian travel site, that is working on a chatbot for Facebook Messenger.

Google

Ensuring it isn't late to the bots party, Google has revealed that it’s developing a powerful chatbot that will be able to answer people’s queries and perform certain tasks. The Google Assistant will respond not only to text input, but also to voice queries. "We are working on a comprehensive way by which third-party developers can interact with the assistant, and we’ll be sharing a lot more in the coming months,” Google chief executive Sundar Pichai told developers during today’s Google I/O keynote.

Then came Allo, a new messaging service that will compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger products and feature a chatbot powered by the Google Assistant. Allo, like WhatsApp, will also have end-to-end encryption when it is rolled out this summer. Google has two important technologies it is very good at, which developers can use to make bots. TensorFlow is an open source machine-learning platform. Applications made using this platform are very good at natural language communication with humans, and get better with use. Google has one of the most advanced and accurate natural language parser in the world.

However, VentureBeat points out, "With Facebook Messenger and Microsoft’s Skype, people will be able to interact with a whole lot of bots. There are already Messenger bots for 1-800-Flowers and online retailer, Spring, and there are Skype bots for Westin Hotels & Resorts and Domino’s Pizza. In Google’s world, there is one lone bot, and that is Google — interactions with other services are brief."

Apple

Apple, the promoter of apps, didn't really mention chatbots or anything close to that. They maintain that apps are here to stay. However, a report points out that 'Apple has indeed joined the race but in a manner most of us did not expect'. We know that the company has become more open to third-party developers, and the report further points out, "Apple, with its updates in iOS 10, took an interesting approach of having visual bots and strengthening its audiobot in its ecosystem.


Published Date: Jul 06, 2016 06:02 pm | Updated Date: Jul 06, 2016 06:02 pm