The Rise of the Chatbots?

Meet Albert, the Trademark Chatbot

During our TEDxVienna Adventures Day I had the opportunity to look behind the scenes of one of the latest IT hypes: chatbots. While many proposed use cases of bots are in the area of customer service and support, here at the Adventure Base at the Palais Eschenbach, a different breed was presented. Albert, a chatbot operated by a government agency giving users access to a database of registered trademarks. This hit my attention since the idea of e-government by chatbots is a fascinating use case compared to the usual bunch of bots which just try to lure me into more mindless consumption.

But what’s Albert? Albert is a chatbot inside the Facebook messenger. It can be contacted in the messenger app or via a web browser. No additional installation required. After a short greeting, Albert offers to check an international trademark database if a trademark name is already registered. This database guarantees full information from all around the world. The database check is  usually done in web pages with multiple selections and forms. The bot simplifies this task by offering only options which are still relevant after answering the previous questions. This is the major advantage of bots vs traditional digital interaction systems. A well designed bot can simplify interactions dramatically by offering only the relevant options in a given context.

The adventurous crowd of the event showed good interest in the chatbot, no wonder, since during the event I had the permanent feeling that each of the attendees had at least one cool idea for a startup or enterprise in mind. Every cool idea needs a good name. And this name should better be protected.

Are bots here to stay?

As with every technology hype there is the legitimate question wether bots are here to stay. My opinion is YES, BUT. Lets dive into the YES first. To get some more insights about chatbots, I took the chance to ask Lena Doppel some questions about the hype and business behind bots. Lena is a consultant at the Chatbots Agency, the company of the chatbot pioneer Barbara Ondrisek, which  implemented Albert (and other funny bots).

Chatbots are a hype driven by the major players like Facebook and Google. However, this would not be sufficient to keep the hype ongoing. Chatbots also introduce a new lightweight style of interaction which is more fun and has less entrance barriers for new users. Also it seems that there is a kind of emotional attachment of humans with systems that can interact on a conversational basis.

The aspect of emotional attachment seems to be a key factor. Could it be that we project human aspects into conversational systems, even if we know that such systems are not human? This would explain why intelligent chatbots are attracting users significantly more than bots based on simple pattern recognition. And YES, this is possibly one reason why bots will stay.

Now lets look at the BUT part. In the current stage I see a clear risk that poorly designed or technologically limited chatbots will bring this hype to a premature end, especially in the domain of customer service and support. If the bots can’t recognize the demand of the user or react only to a limited set of requests, the users will not experience the utility of those systems and will lose interest. However, according to Lena it seems that this is still hard to explain to customers.

It is hard to sell a chatbot with cognitive AI inside and a well designed branding, since both aspects add quite some cost. The market still has to understand the added value of immersive conversations and the power of humor and fun in small talk sequences and elaborate philosophical discourses.

One to bind them all

Another issue bothers me with the current bot concepts. I don’t want to maintain a conversational context with many chatbots for all my  different tasks. I want ONE assistant for all my tasks. The big players have already started to elaborate on assistant systems which can include 3rd party chatbot apps. Now this seems interesting to me. And hey, there are some cool maker projects where you can try it out yourself.

I am sorry, dear reader, I can’t finish this blog as I just got this chatbot idea that I want to check out. Hm, how should I name it? Is this name still available? Let’s chat with Albert…


Header image credits to shutterstock 



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About Dietmar Millinger

Dietmar has an IT background. The main interest focuses on consciousness in various forms, since this seems to be the biggest puzzle in our time. Private interests are scuba diving, running and the search for luck.

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