In 2016, you’ll hear a lot about bots, though bots aren’t anything new. Many even predate the internet (remember Clippy in Microsoft Office?). For the uninitiated, a bot is a piece of code, or software, that runs automated tasks. Unfortunately, the history of bots isn’t great. Their services have been misappropriated for cheating in games, placing last-minute bids on auctions and luring people to porn sites. Outside of Clippy, bots are best known for malicious reasons and porn. Yet, this is 2016 and bots are back with a vengeance.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and many other companies are investing in bots as well as enabling bot integration. Ahead of its Build conference this year, Microsoft unveiled Tay. Tay was/is a bot on Twitter designed to speak like a teenager. Users of the internet decided this was too good an opportunity to miss. They taught Tay to be a misguided, Trump-loving, racist, drug-taking bot.
Leading the bot charge is Facebook. At its annual F8 conference, Facebook unveiled its bot store for companies to build platforms for customer engagement and customer service. These bots can help you with everything, from telling you the weather, to booking a holiday, buying products and dealing with customer complaints. The store is designed for companies to create bots that users of Facebook Messenger can use, rather than using the internet or other apps.
Here are five essential things you need to know about the forthcoming bot invasion:
Bots could be useful in fintech
“If you avoid Starbucks, you can have a weekend away in two months.” We all know this to be the case. Nobody needs to buy a £4 coffee every day, but we do it anyway. Bots that understand our spending habits could help to be the good side of our conscious. As bots can be programmed for virtually anything, it would be possible for financial service companies (or banks) to build a financial adviser, investment manager, broker and virtually any other bot.
The flip side here is that in a data- and insight-led industry such as finance, bots possibly pose one of the biggest threats to some job roles.
Bots are the future of apps (or are they?)
“Apps, they’re so 2008. Bots are where it’s at now. Who wants to use a clunky app when they can use a bot?”
When we say bots are the future of apps, we mean they’re the future of AI systems. This means that bots will be at the core of Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Now. Companies will need to plug into those platforms if they want to play or use their … apps.
One emerging problem, especially in the financial sector, is how to deal with bots and security? If Facebook has its way and companies build bots into Messenger, how do you deal with security through Messenger? How do you prevent further financial information feeding into Facebook?
If anything, bots will remove the need to download an app you would only use once, or replace emailing a company with a complaint, or (as many companies would probably love) replace customer service via the open forum that is Twitter.
Recently, in the Alphabet earnings call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said: “In the long run, I think we will evolve in computing from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world.” Obviously, Sundar is someone who has a pretty good idea of where technology is moving, but what device is he imagining the AI will be on?
Customer service will eventually be replaced by bots
Call me a cynic, but the best customer service comes from those who can go off script, and one needs look no further than customer service legends Zappos as a case in point. As is so often the case, when you deal with a customer service representative who’s following a scripted process, it’s usually frustrating and robotic.
There is evidence that apps have already had an impact on customer service enquiries. One report by Sabio found that apps could lead to a reduction of contact centre traffic volumes by 10-15%. I have also heard of companies that have seen calls reduced by as much as 30%. Seeing as, most of the time, people are looking for help or information, bots could play a role in that process. Yet, beyond relatively simple interactions, I can’t see bots taking over from humans any time soon for complex customer service interaction.
Bots are all about artificial intelligence
If you say AI, what image do you get? No doubt something akin to Terminator’s Skynet and its end-of-world-inducing self-awareness. Hollywood has conditioned many of us to be fearful of robots and thinking machines. By saying that we’re talking to bots, perhaps it’s less scary and allows for a margin of error. Without bots, AI wouldn’t be possible.
Bots have always been here
As we’ve already established, bots are not new. They are nearly as old as the web itself, but rather than the spider bots, they are now being positioned as ways to interact with users.
Any Skype user that has ever had a suspicious, scantily dressed woman add them as a friend and engage them in conversation, has spoken to a bot before. The same happens when you go onto a company’s website and a pop-up box comes up saying, “Hi I’m Joe. Is there anything you’re looking for today?”
The future of bots is to try and help us in our daily lives. How much impact they will have remains to be seen. For some tasks, they have the potential to be great, while for others they will be a gimmick. One thing is for sure: there are myriad possible applications for fintech companies with bots – it’s just a question of overcoming the security hurdles that present themselves as this technology reaches ever further into our everyday lives.
– This article is reproduced with kind permission, and has been rewritten by the author especially for BankNXT readers. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Main image: Mopin, Shutterstock Licence