The Now: What are Chatbots?

Lesson 22: What are Chatbots?


What are chatbots?

Person talking to chatbot with smartphone

Messaging has become one of the most popular means of communication in recent years. Whether it's text messages or messenger apps, it's how a lot of people prefer talking with others. Because of this rise in popularity, many businesses and organizations are beginning to develop and invest in a service called chatbots.

Chatbots are computer programs that you interact with via a chat interface. Using a chatbot is as simple as having a conversation with it. You can ask it questions or give it commands, and it'll respond to you and carry out your actions. Chatbots can be run in any number of chat apps, including Facebook Messenger, your phone's text messaging app, and most others.

Watch the video below to learn more about chatbots.

How do chatbots work?

Currently, there are two types of chatbots: those that operate on a set of rules, and those that are powered by artificial intelligence.

Chatbots based on rules are fairly limited. They require you to use specific commands and phrases in order to get them to do what you want. They're also only as smart as they're programmed to be; they must be updated by their creators in order to improve their performance.

On the other hand, chatbots using artificial intelligence can understand language. This means you don't have to use particular words or phrases; you can type more conversationally, like you would to a real person. These chatbots will also get smarter the more they talk with you, learning from each conversation.

Using a chatbot that tells the weather

What can I do with a chatbot?

Chatbots have all sorts of uses, ranging from entertainment to education to business. Some can tell you the weather, others give advice, and some merely provide a friend to talk to.

Many businesses have been developing their own chatbots to assist customers with online shopping. For example, instead of going to a company's website and searching through results to find what you want, you can simply ask a chatbot to recommend a certain item. You can even include details about the item you're looking for, as seen in the example below. The chatbot will then provide a suggestion, along with the option of purchasing it.

A retail chatbot recommending a pair of headphones

In addition to helping with shopping, businesses are using chatbots for customer service. When you have a question, you can talk with one to help resolve your issue. Because this technology is still in its early phases, these chatbots can usually only handle simple requests like Where is my order? or How much do you charge for shipping? If a chatbot is unable to answer one of your questions, it can transfer the conversation to a human representative.

Give it a try!

Below are links to some chatbots you can try talking to. Simply click the link, then select the app you'd like to open the bot with, which should be located in the lefthand column. Once the chatbot opens in its corresponding program, simply send it a message to begin using it!

  • Poncho: A weather chatbot available for Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack
  • Jarvis: A reminders chatbot available for Facebook Messenger
  • Mitsuku: A lifelike chatbot for when you just want someone to talk to; available for Kik and Skype

Other resources

As the popularity of chatbots continue to grow, more and more are being developed and released. Below are some resources to help you find chatbots and learn more about them.

  • botlist: An app store specifically for bots, organized by both category and platforms
  • Chatbots Magazine: A website regularly posting articles on chatbots and their advancements