Reading on the web the new Facebook Messenger’s Bots reviews I confirmed my idea: human language is still too complex to understand by any kind of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Read “I Tried Shopping on Facebook Messenger. It Didn’t Go Well” by Lukas Thoms and “Facebook’s grand plan to simplify your life is off to a rough start” by Alex Heath.
So please, stop dreaming about a J.A.R.V.I.S.-like Bot. AI will never be like a personal assistant that knows everything about you, that understands the environment, your feelings and your needs. AI assistant will be for ever a digital system that gives complex and nice outputs just because someone coded all kind of linguistic inputs that a human can produce; this kind of assistant will never really understand what’s happening. The most advanced AI possible is the one that has the biggest relational and semantic database tested (manually!) by real operators (read “The Humans Hiding Behind the Chatbots” by Ellen Huet).
Natural language isn’t the key
Machines that understand some plain language commands and that can anticipate some users needs are possible, but computers that are able to understand all kind of phrases that a human pronounces, sorry, but aren’t near to come.
Like everybody us today can understand icons on expensive glass-plates called smartphone, in the same way we must create a simplified language for communicating and using Bots.
For me nobody wants to lose his time talking with a Bot even if companies would love the idea that millions of virtual and assertive sales people talk 24h/7 with customers. Instead, the most amazing feature of the Bots AI isn’t their humanity, but the fact that users can treat them without any courtesy, that they will memorize users tastes and credentials, that they will anticipate users needs thanks to some “natural language” commands and some Facebook profile analysis.
All this doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t care about language per se, but that they should drive users to use a simplified language for the following reasons:
- a simple language is easier to explain in a sort of tutorial during the first chats
- a simple language is faster and more efficient than the natural one. If the number of taps for receiving an information on a chat is a way more than searching it on a website, the chatbot is going to fail
- creating a sort of standard simplified language for all the Bots will ease exponentially their usage.
The users fruition model will be like the one that today drives sites like Yahoo Answers, Quora or the common FAQs pages where contents are organized and required using the “How to…” and “What is…” format.
I’m really convinced that if we continue to think that Messenger’s Bots will have to answer like a sales assistant we’ll be disappointed. Lukas Thoms posted his frustrating experience that is almost the same that I have from 2002 every time I use all sort of AIs like Google Now, Siri and any other commercial product.
My approach as a product designer is to create a simple “natural language” code that enables users to obtain rapidly information and suggestions that can be personalized in a conversational way.
Thinking that Facebook’s Bots are the ultimate virtual shop assistant is completely wrong. They will never have a natural conversation with a customer that doesn’t know what he wants to buy or that doesn’t have the patience to write, read, tap, browse more than on a mobile website.
The Facebook Messenger’s Bots instead are the most powerful way to build a personalized and automated customer experience. The Bot and AI features released by Facebook should be used for answering to precise, short and brutal customers questions. Bots should respond to simple and standards commands that users could learn like they learnt how to understand simple and standards icons that one decade ago didn’t exist. Bots should be even enabled to be personalized by users in a conversational way for sending the right contents at the right time and in the right place.
Users are the bosses of their messaging apps and contacts. The companies Bots had to be their slaves and must carry them the information that they want and the services that they need. If the most of the time spent on smartphones is on direct messages apps, it means that people already have someone to talk with. Bots should just deliver interesting and on-time contents, convenient offers and useful services within Messenger. Nothing more (no small talks please) and nothing less (if I know what I want, I want to find it on my Messenger app. For the rest I’ll continue to use apps and mobile websites).
Bots are a powerful communication channel between customers and companies where direct/geo marketing, marketing researches, customers relations and sales happen.
This is the first step of my research. I’m continuing to map Bots functions and in the next weeks I’ll design some examples that I’ll post here. If someone wants to collaborate, feel free to contact me.