You may be scared to lose your job to an AI, but another obsession in the workforce and technology industry has been the chatbot. They've grown from what was originally considered a joke in technology to gaining the capability to handle customer service issues, and even LinkedIn is using them to build out their platform. They're obviously attractive to businesses; they can focus their staff on more difficult tasks while sophisticated bots answer simple questions, and they can help make a smaller company seem much larger.

The big boom, according to Facebook and others, will be in customer service. Many customer service complaints or questions are simple, taking way too much time on hold when they could be automated. This isn't to say that they always are, but everyone dreams of a day of not having to talk to another person to get them to run a simple diagnostic on their internet connection, or find out what the reset password is for a router. That being said, there are many other kinds of chatbots you can build, such as conversational bots, shopping bots (such as Sephora's chatbot, which launched on the large messenger Kik), and the many news organizations have built chatbots to deliver their content.

For example, Talla is a service that can intelligently HR situations for you, taking hours of exhausting work off of your staff. Starting with the basic simple HR questions, Talla can also operate at a very complex level, handling employee onboarding, engaging with employees on Slack and other platforms, and even handling alerts related to employee cutoff dates related to healthcare.

The industry is far older than people realize. Diego Ventura, CEO of NoHold, was reported by Business Insider as creating one of the first chatbot companies in 1999. After 17 years, the company has worked with Dell, Cisco, Lenovo and Toshiba. His work involved him creating a patent around Internet expert system and method using free-form messaging in a dialogue format," which has been used and credited to Ventura via IBM, Oracle, and AT&T in their own patent filings. NoHold also recently released Albert, a platform using natural language processing and deep learning that lets anyone to quickly format a document and create a chatbot about anything, from a guide to someone's Airbnb to a question and answer handbook for a chatbot. They are planning a professional version in 2017 for larger businesses.

Another interesting use of chatbots is Boltfare. The company, speaking to The Next Web, allows users to either using a free or $5 a month plan to let the bot plan an entire trip itinerary, down to the specific dates and hotels. It's intelligent enough to also suggest specific dates that would work for you that would also be more affordable. Other travel companies have attempted to create human-facing, subscription-based systems using a direct human interface, but the speed of travel booking (and the lack of trust of someone else with your credit card) means that companies like Boltfare have a great chance to compete.

In Australia, financial institution AMP is also trialing a chatbot called "Rosie." The creator, a company called Flamingo, does more than the classical customer service bot does, due to the fact that it uses artificial intelligence to suggest what Flamingo refers to as "complex financial products." With the many global and national regulations around finance, the bot has to not only use its own AI to successfully match customers with a product, but has to also be specifically programmed to not mislead them. This may have sounded like science fiction even five years ago, but now users could avoid cold-calling salesmen or pushy bank tellers by having an honest conversation with an artificial intelligence about their financial future.

One might say that the revolution is already here; even mattress and sleep company Casper is introducing a chatbot to help people feel less lonely when they can't sleep. There are many unexplored avenues for the industry, but in barely a year we have seen an explosion in an industry that is so easy to integrate into your business that to ignore it would be a huge missed opportunity.

Published on: Jan 30, 2017
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