What Is a Chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through voice commands or text chats or both. Chatbot, short for chatterbot, is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) feature that can be embedded and used through any major messaging applications. There are a number of synonyms for chatbot, including "talkbot," "bot," "IM bot," "interactive agent" or "artificial conversation entity."

Chatbot Explained

The progressive advance of technology has seen an increase in businesses moving from traditional to digital platforms to transact with consumers. Convenience through technology is being carried out by businesses by implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques on their digital platforms. One AI technique that is growing in its application and use is chatbots. Some examples of chatbot technology are virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, and messaging apps, such as WeChat and Facebook messenger.

Chatbot in Use

A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the manpower or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.

A chatbot works in a couple of ways: set guidelines and machine learning. A chatbot that functions with a set of guidelines in place is limited in its conversation. It can only respond to a set number of requests and vocabulary, and is only as intelligent as its programming code. An example of a limited bot is an automated banking bot that asks the caller some questions to understand what the caller wants done. The bot would make a command like “Please tell me what I can do for you by saying account balances, account transfer, or bill payment.” If the customer responds with "credit card balance," the bot would not understand the request and would proceed to either repeat the command or transfer the caller to a human assistant.

How Chatbots Function

A chatbot that functions through machine learning has an artificial neural network inspired by the neural nodes of the human brain. The bot is programmed to self-learn as it is introduced to new dialogues and words. In effect, as a chatbot receives new voice or textual dialogues, the number of inquiries that it can reply and the accuracy of each response it gives increases. Facebook has a machine learning chatbot that creates a platform for companies to interact with their consumers through the Facebook Messenger application. Using the Messenger bot, users can buy shoes from Spring, order a ride from Uber, and have election conversations with the New York Times which used the Messenger bot to cover the 2016 presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. If a user asked the New York Times through the app a question like “What’s new today?” or “What do the polls say?” the bot would reply to the request.

Chatbots are used in a variety of sectors and built for different purposes. There are retail bots designed to pick and order groceries, weather bots that give you weather forecasts of the day or week, and simply friendly bots that just talk to people in need of a friend. The fintech sector also uses chatbots to make consumers’ inquiries and application for financial services easier. A small business lender in Montreal, Thinking Capital, uses a virtual assistant to provide customers with 24/7 assistance through the Facebook Messenger. A small business hoping to get a loan from the company need only answer key qualification questions asked by the bot in order to be deemed eligible to receive up to $300,000 in financing.