Chapter 17. Bot Thots

Bots have become hot, fast. Their rise—fueled by advances in artificial intelligence, consumer comfort with chat interfaces, and a stagnating mobile app ecosystem—has been a bright spot in an otherwise darkening venture-capital environment.

I’ve been speaking with a lot of bot creators and have noticed that a handful of questions appear frequently. On closer inspection, bots seem a little less radical and a lot more feasible.

Text Isn’t the Final Form

The first generation of bots has been text most of the way down. That’s led to some skepticism: you mean I’ll have to choose between 10 hotels by reading down a list in Facebook Messenger? But bot thinkers are already moving toward a more nuanced model in which different parts of a transaction are handled in text and in graphical interfaces.

Conversational interfaces can be good for discovering intent: a bot that can offer any coherent response to “find a cool hotel near Google’s HQ” will be valuable, saving its users one search to find the location of Google’s headquarters, another search for hotels nearby, and some amount of filtering to find hotels that are “cool.”

But, conversational interfaces are bad at presenting dense information in ways that are easy for human users to sort through. Suppose that hotel bot turns up a list of finalists and asks you to choose: that’s handled much more effectively in a more traditional-looking web interface, where information can be conveyed richly.

Conversational ...

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