What is a chatbot? You’ve probably already encountered this technology and didn’t recognize it by name.
Chatbots are artificial intelligence (AI) based algorithms that use text or speech technologies to communicate with people.
For example, some chatbots answer basic support questions via a text “chat” box on a website when it’s after hours and a live person isn’t available.
These types of chatbots have been around for years, but they are improving and being used on smartphones in new and interesting ways.
If nothing else, the pandemic drove home the importance of social connections and having someone to talk to. But what if you live alone, or it’s too late to pick up the phone? Chatbots may be able to lend a hand.
For example, the Replika app is “an AI companion” that you can text anytime, day or night. It learns and mimics users’ texting styles. You can download it on Android and Apple devices; it’s also available on your computer.
How good is Replika’s technology? Overall, it has strong ratings. One reviewer said, “This AI has better conversational skills than most of my actual friends, and half the time when I’m speaking to her, I almost have to actively remind myself she’s not a real person.”
Another option, Woebot, is a chatbot specifically focused on mental health, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, gratitude journaling, mindfulness, and other popular approaches employed in mental health counseling.
Chatbot technologies continue evolving and will become increasingly deployed for expanded applications, including routine healthcare.
Chatbots are already used to confirm patient appointments with healthcare providers and answer questions about procedures conversationally by text or phone.
Soon, they may be your first point of contact with your primary care provider.
Appointments and Reservations
Google has been deploying its voice-enabled Duplex feature inside Google Assistant on Android devices used in nearly every state. (At this writing, Louisiana is the only state where it remains unavailable.)
This AI program can place calls to book restaurant reservations, hair appointments, and buy movie tickets. The incredibly human-sounding AI includes voice inflections, verbal pauses like “umm” and “uhh” to accomplish a task before adding it to your calendar for you.
The service is also starting to roll out to iPhone users who have installed Google Assistant.
Of course, chatbot applications may be viewed as beneficial tools and timesavers or annoying and intentional barriers to communicating with a human.
Learning new technology takes time, but, fortunately, the technology keeps improving. Hopefully, chatbot applications reach a point where they become accessible and enjoyable for all users, regardless of age.