All about bots

When Facebook announced a new chatbot platform within its Messenger app, it got the attention of people who’d either never cared about artificial intelligence or weren’t ready to embrace it. Now, bots and chatbots are poised to eliminate the need for websites and apps.

A chatbot is a service that allows users to connect with companies through artificial intelligence. In Messenger, available bots are displayed in a row between your list of Facebook friends and those you contact most often. To see them, you may need to tap on the search bar.

I tried using chatbots to see how they work and was impressed. Sort of.

Operator is a featured Messenger chatbot that appears in the first row of available bots to use. It is a shopping app that connects users to a real person who will do the shopping for them.

I messaged Operator with the word shoe and was asked for more information of what I was looking for. I told Operator I wanted a pair of running shoes in a size 12 for men. A sales representative came aboard a few minutes later, introduced herself as Alana and asked what price range and brand I was most interested in. After I messaged her that I wanted to spend less than a hundred dollars and that I preferred Adidas, she started shopping. A few minutes later she found exactly what I was looking for, and I could purchase them with a simple "I’ll take it." Alana said Operator would handle the order, payment and shipping. Very simple.

But, while it was faster than opening an app, I felt detached from the whole shopping experience. Rather than opening my Zappos app and browsing the selections myself, I had my own personal shopper to do it for me. That’s great for some things, but maybe not for shoes. I like to browse and see what’s out there.

In his introduction of Messenger bots, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demoed ordering flowers through 1­-800-Flowers, saying no one wants to call the company and get put on hold. He ordered flowers through a chatbot much faster.

I also checked stock quotes and news about a company and Yahoo Finance messaged me the latest news. For fun I tried the Sephora chatbot, which allowed me to take a selfie, then see what different shades of lipstick would look on me. I also played a Trivia Game using the Trivia Blast bot.

There are currently more than 11,000 chatbots available in Messenger and hundreds more introduced every week. You can find a list of all available chatbots at www.botlist.co

Would I use them again? Yes. The Uber chatbot was much faster than opening the Uber app. Would I shop for clothes, shoes or electronics? Nope. I’d rather shop for deals on Amazon.

Will bots someday replace websites and apps as some have predicted? Not totally. There are far too many great apps to use and chatbots are far more inconvenient that visiting a website on a computer.

Still, I was impressed. Sort of.

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