Chatbot | Are Bots without chat the future?

Chatbot is all rage. Are they the right solution though? First principles suggests we shouldn’t ask user for too much input.

Computers or your phones aren’t actually all that smart, not yet. A few real world machine learning applications have become commonplace though. For instance, your photos app now recognises that you were with a dog at the park. Another example is your AI based keyboard. I vouch for SwiftKey. It uses machine learning to vastly improve auto-completion, and next word prediction. So much so, that many times it completes literally whole sentences while typing. Now, that’s pretty great and machine learning has come a long way.

So whats next? we love asking this question, and rightly so!

Different tech companies have slightly different bets to answer this question. However, there seem to be some underlying themes. For example, chatbot has begun gaining traction. Especially since Facebook launched their chatbot service.

Chatbot search trend
Notice the spike in Google Trends for Bots (in RED) in April 2016 when Facebook announced chat bots for developers

Google followed with Duo and Allo, and we know that WeChat has been doing chatbots for a while too. Conversational UI, assistant, chat based commerce and all that is apparently the “next big thing”. But is it? What does experience tell us?  well as Ben Evans nicely puts it in his blog. see original blog post here.

Is Chatbot just a bunch of “if-else-then statements”?

From my experience of using a Facebook messenger chatbot, it would appear so, it is NOT intelligent. Period. Perhaps one day, it will get there. Oh yes, and there is the Uber integration. Have you heard of a newly launched platform that does not have a sexy means to call you an Uber? Alexa, call me an Uber, Google Home Call me an Uber, Facebook bot, yada yada… Enough with Uber already. I quite like the concept of chatbot, don’t get me wrong but as Ben Evan’s blog nicely highlights, the magic dissipates as soon as the algorithm starts asking you too many questions. In the short term though, the fact that my Google photos can figure out my Christo Redeemer photos without me labelling them is definitely magic. It happens without me having to chat with anyone, or without providing any significant user input.

Christo Redeemer
Google magically finds my Christo Redeemer photos!

So, lets recap. Machine learning is great, but its not so great that it can converse with us without asking too many questions and create magic, just yet. Edit: GPT class might change this completely. See GPT2, and GPT3.

I believe the real magic is somewhere else and we should not get too distracted by the user interface such as chat. We should rather take a real world problem, let’s say “making a shopping list” and apply machine learning till the algorithm matches or surpasses human abilities at solving for the task. For instance, looking through your regular shopping lists and when you want stuff, can the algorithm automatically predict what you need every other week? That would be awesome.

Let us understand the first principle on this one.

The path of least resistance always wins. Images are better than text. Video is better than images. Automated curation of responses than asking the user to type in a full sentence. Chat requires too much user input and my bet will be on applications that make the input invisible real fast. Imagine that our machine learning shopping list app just gently notifies the user his or her auto-populated shopping list. Yes, you can then send it straight to Amazon fresh and order stuff at the push of a button. Simple, right? I know!!

Appreciate that it is a very hard problem to solve – but in my book it would definitely be magic. I am not the only one to say this, a lot of Silicon Valley pundits say that the next wave of startups would take a problem, and add AI to make things simpler. Thats what I find exciting about the future!

I am happy to be proven wrong, but hopefully we can do away with chatbots until they can truly become magical.


Ps. for any VC’s willing to fund my shopping list idea, do reach out at @abhinandanshah or the comments section 🙂

For now, bot out…

By Abhi Shah

Hi, I’m Abhi. After living many years in London, me and my family re-located back to India in the summer of 2017. I spend most of my time working with a high performing team at Barclays in Pune, India and the rest with my son Anik! I have spent half of my career in commercial product roles and half in technology. I have also spent over 9 years living outside India, and have traveled to over 27 countries. Visit the Bio section of this website to learn more about me.

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