What are chatbots and how do they work?

We’re all now well used to using our mobile phones for almost every aspect of everyday life – booking holidays, transferring money, checking train times and our meeting schedule at work. In an effort to make life even easier, we’re now starting to see companies develop chatbots to help us find this information and complete tasks even faster.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots, or chat robots, are computer programs that use artificial intelligence to mimic human conversation either verbally or in writing. Typically a chatbot will communicate with a real person, and are often used by companies who want to automate the way they offer support and information to customers.

Chances are you are already using chatbots without realising. If you’ve ever spoken to Siri, Cortana or Google Now, then you definitely have. They are all chatbots, but commonly referred to as personal assistants by their creators.

Can you give me an example?

Apple’s Siri is a chatbot designed to have a back-and-forth conversation with consumers to help them get tasks done. Instead of opening up your internet browser yourself, you might ask Siri to tell you the weather forecast for tomorrow or to find the address for a certain shop.

How do they work?

Chatbots are programmed to recognize key words in the users input, whether you’re typing onto a screen or speaking into a microphone. They then access a database or the internet to give a predefined response or the information requested. The intelligence of a chatbot depends on how detailed these predefined patterns are.  As an example, you could ask a chatbot which films are currently showing at the cinema and be offered the answer, as well as it smartly recognizing you might want to know related facts such as your nearest cinema location and screening time, without you needing to ask additional questions.

With big companies like Facebook and Uber announcing that they will shortly be launching chatbots, it seems like this type of technology is going to explode until it becomes the norm. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask.