Imagine if you could speak to a person without them saying “like”, “um”, “like literally”, and “you know”. Conversations sound more eloquent and fluent, and people wouldn’t become frustrated or annoyed listening to people being unable to articulate and string together ideas, words and sentences. Alas, for there is hope in the form of chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
A chatbot is just a robot chat that imitates human conversations through voice commands, text chats, or both. It’s a virtual conversation in which one party is an online talking robot.” (Business Insider, 2017). And, despite chatbots being around since the mid-1960s, the mass development and application of chatbots has mainly been seen within the last two decades (or even ten years) as a result of computing technology improving.
As it currently stands, chatbots are being massively deployed in social media, communications, retail, financial services, education, and health care, and with many more functionality developments on the horizon the status of this technology will soon be significant. The design and coding of a chatbot is not easy. If you are willing to pay thousands of dollars to a chatbot developer because you are unable to code or build these things (which most people aren’t), you don’t really have a choice, but if you can code and build chatbots, why aren’t you working for Google, Amazon or Microsoft yet?
The reason why chatbots and machine learning is so important in 2017 and for the next couple of years is because they are able to effectively remove the ‘human element’ of a job. Although some people swear by the interpersonal skills created by a professional or social relationship, businesses are starting to no longer see the market this way. With labour being the highest cost for more companies, the building of chatbots and messaging machines that are designed to self-regulate and that can work all hours of the day is extremely appealing to businesses looking to stay ‘online’ and reach a broader audience. For example, the major tech companies in the world and what type of chatbots they have on the market – Apple has Siri, Amazon have Lex and Alexa, Microsoft have Stack Overflow and Cortana, and Google have Allo and Google Home – and whilst these companies have been the pioneers of this exciting technology for a long time, startups particularly in Silicon Valley are bringing to market a wide variety of purposeful chatbot platforms and tools.
More specifically however, the threats and opportunities of chatbots to education will create a lot of dislocation and disruption on the supply side, compared to more accessibility and cheaper prices on the demand side. The concept of a virtual classroom and a personal teacher that are both compatible in delivering a lesson and engaging with a student poses a significant threat to the teaching profession. Similar to what is being seen in the Accounting industry with implementation of ‘bots’ to complete ledgers and financial statements, making the role of the accountant more value-adding, the education and teaching profession can be expected to mirror this movement away from repetitive tasks. This isn’t to suggest that teachers will be made completely redundant in the next thirty years, but teachers will need to adapt to this imminent shift so that they are still able to control the quality and pace of content being taught. Imagine talking to a chatbot for parent teacher night!
Hopefully a future oriented and optimistic look at the rise of the machines and artificial intelligence applications can produce a sensible and positive response from both the supply and demand sides of industry. Whilst chatbots already hold a vital place in fulfilling the expectations that customers and clients have of a business as seen in health care and financial services, it is important for businesses to realise that “the human brain is the most complex structure in the universe” (The Independent, 2014) and it will always be necessary to have humans at the forefront/control panel of human interactions…like literally.