What Exactly is a ChatBot and Why Should I Care About It?

February 3, 2017

Technology moves fast and it sure can be hard to keep up. Our kids seem to have virtually forgotten that their phones can be used to make calls as they spending their time in their favorite mobile messaging apps. Whether it’s Snap, Whatsapp, Messenger, SMS or others - messaging apps are now central to our kids’ daily communications and their connections to the world. Just as we’ve started to get used to all of the new ways that our families communicate, we now need to spend some time understanding who they are communicating with.

Messaging apps have become hugely popular. In fact, the total active users each month on messaging platforms now exceeds the number of active users on social media. The shift of online time towards messaging apps together with increased saturation of mobile app stores has helped to drive the rise of a new technology - ChatBots.

ChatBots are artificial intelligence enabled programs that can interact with people via the messaging applications that they use every day. We love ChatBots, in fact, I launched ChatLogix specifically to help people communicate with organizations as easily as they communicate with their friends. After all, isn’t the world a simpler place when you can simply send a message asking when your bill is due than logging into a company’s website or calling their call center?

We think that ChatBots are incredibly useful and will make our lives much easier in the coming years. That said, we also believe that it’s important for families to understand what ChatBots are, how their children may be interacting with them and key considerations to be aware of.

You didn’t ignore the key considerations relating to your family’s use of social media and mobile devices. You shouldn’t ignore the same sort of considerations for messaging platforms and ChatBots.

ChatBots, or Bots, as we lovingly call them, are new. Yet, they're emerging to have a permanent place in our vernacular, and that is only going to accelerate. Along with that admiration, there are some key considerations that you and your family should understand as the frequency and complexity of Bot interactions continues to grow.

1) The message stream can be easily deleted/cleared. What does this mean? Somewhat like SnapChat, if kids are “chatting” with a Bot, they can delete that conversation, and you will not know what may have transpired. Obviously, this is yet another opportunity to have some healthy discussions about good online safety usage. Remembering that kids need to know they are accountable for how they communicate online. Asking a Bot to show inappropriate pictures and deleting, may seem like a good idea, but as we all know, they can land in some very inappropriate places.

2) Bot operators have access to what your kids are saying in their messages. Again, this is a new channel of communication, but the same rules apply. Anything a kid asks, writes or shares (if applicable) should not be anything private. They are using a Bot on the same channel, like SMS text or Kik, they would need to be careful on anyway. Ensure that data they provide is secure. ChatBots are not the place to share a home address.

3) Be aware that bot-to-human handoffs can be hard to identify. Here’s the thing about Bots. As they evolve, and the sentiment detection, and natural language processing (NLP) improve, kids and adults for that matter, may not be clear if they are talking with a person or a robot. Bot builders, absolutely should disclose if their Bots are actual humans, or robots, but they may not always do so. We never want kids (or adults) to not know who they are talking to online.

In the best case scenario, all Bot engineers and developers will embrace the ethical responsibility to make sure they are being used the way they are intended. ChatBots offer seamless capability, ease of use, convenience and an ability to be connected in a more conversational and direct way. Bots offer

more than we have seen with other channels for communication. We must be accountable, as we learn more about the use cases and instances that arise which may highlight some red flags.

As we said at the beginning, we love Bots. Initiating a healthy and ongoing dialogue about what they can do will offer endless possibilities.

Stay connected to the resources, as well as respected experts and leaders out there who share what they know, communicate openly with your kids and trust your gut... parents do really know best.

Written by

Christopher Skelly

Christopher Skelly is the founder and CEO of ChatLogix, where he works daily with clients helping them to enable great conversational interactions between their organizations and their customers, prospects members and constituents. Chris is working on bringing the power of artificial intelligence to conversational interfaces, establishing ChatLogix as a leading platform for building and managing intelligent, adaptive ChatBots that can be deployed across all major messaging platforms.

Chris has more than 25 years of experience building and operating technology-enabled services across a wide range of industries - his first computer was a Texas Instruments TI-99.