Chapter 1. What Are Conversational Bots?

Introduction to Bots

In March, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared that “bots are the new apps.” Venture capitalist Benedict Evans writes that bots might become the “third runtime, after the Web and native apps.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved to the stage where it can parse intentions and churn out useful responses to practical queries. And after a decade of texting and messaging on smartphones, we’ve become comfortable with conversational interfaces. Will 2016 be remembered as “The Year of the Bot”?

Bots promise to inject information, intelligence, and online services into just about any scenario. Bots could give workers superpowers, make networks more accessible, reorder user experiences, and build new ecosystems. They offer developers a faster way into users’ pockets as the app economy matures.

What exactly are bots? Here’s a good working definition: bots are AI-driven pieces of software that converse in human terms. They’re not quite ready to pass the Turing test, but ready enough for many forms of commerce and messaging.

Bots are able to automate human tasks for which APIs don’t exist, translating fluidly between unstructured language and structured data. They promise to bring a new level of sophistication and convenience to interactions between humans and computers. Let’s break that idea into two key elements:

  1. Artificial Intelligence makes it possible for bots to parse human language, understand intent, and compose ...

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