Chatbot Here, Chatbot There: Understanding the Buzz

People used to make fun of chatbots for their dumb answers and lack of logic or reasoning; it was easy to reproach them for their lack of intelligence.

In ‘pre-messenger’ time, we found them in a small window with a picture of a lady displaying a "how can I help you?" sign, on a variety of websites. Back then, thousands of people had the pleasure of interacting with a chatbot, without even knowing they were! Many, in fact, mistook chatbots for lazy or poorly trained staff. If you were one of those users, the truth has now been revealed...

This is one of my favourite, recent, conversations with a chatbot.

Me (Human): Hi! I would like to order XL hosting option
Bot: So... Go sleep.
Me (Human): What do you mean?
Bot: Me? I don't know.
There are plenty of funny examples like these, that people post online, and there are even some more macabre or gloomy ones:

Bot: How would you describe this term to your grandma
Human: My grandma is dead
Bot: Alright! Thank you for your feedback

Stupid chatbot vs intelligent chatbot

Researchers developed the first chatbot in 1966, and the technology was widely available but not generally used until recently, after chatbots were ‘re-invented’ by digital industry giants. Now their popularity is increasing rapidly. Skyrocketing growth of messaging platforms and much more powerful computers, which are able to process huge amounts of data, were the main supports. Chatbots are now celebrated as a new kind of user interfaces, to replace websites and applications. The reason: they mimic interaction between real people... and people like things that make sense to them.

Technology advances are allowing developers and data scientists to produce better components for chatbots which can be used, for example, during the implementation of deep learning. For this particular area, Bots are fed with large amounts of linguistic data (examples of dialogues from real life, etc.) and ‘learn’ how to reproduce parts of the conversations in a meaningful way. This is also an underlying technology for voice controlled virtual assistants, like Alex or Siri.

How and why people use chatbots

Now that Chatbots are becoming ubiquitous, we are learning some interesting things. One of the first, and surprising, findings in 1966 was that people ascribe some human characteristics to chatbots. Researchers conducted a series of experiments demonstrating that people tried to be polite with bots, treated them as thinking beings and showed emotional connection. Some users even demanded privacy - to be left alone in the room with a chatbot.
But, of course, chatting with a human being differs from chatting with a bot. According to a recent study led by Jennifer Hill, of George Washington University, people use shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary with bots and, surprisingly, tend to chat much longer with them than with their human counterparts. The explanation: humans try to adapt their language to the language of the chatbot, the way they do when talking to children or foreigners. At the same time, the longer duration chats show that some people may feel more comfortable and/or confident with bots than with humans.

But why use chatbots? In the research conducted by Petter Bae Brandtzaeg and Asbjørn Følstad (Norvegian multidisciplinary research institute SINTEF) 68% of participants stated that the main reason they are chatting with the bots is productivity. They use chatbots because it is fast, easy and more convenient. Chatbots find needed information quickly, answer questions extremely quickly and present the results to users in a convenient way.
Other Studies indicate that the less technical knowledge the users has, the more they see chatbots as humans, expecting more from them and, because of that, they can be more disappointed with the interaction. As well, studies find that, generally, younger people and women tend to rate conversations with chatbots more positively than men and the elderly.
How to fall in love
Now that the technology is quite sophisticated, and it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the chatbot from a human, there are even blogs that give advice on how not to fall in love with a bot, or mistake it for a real person searching for a partner. This only proves that it is quite important to understand new phenomena, and to follow new developments, and their challenges as we move into the future. Chatbots are no exception. Be kind to them, but don’t fall in love!