The tech world has been voraciously chattering about “chatbots,” and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has already declared them the new apps, the next big thing.
But what tends to get lost in the discussion is the reason why these chatbots could represent such a power shift in the industry, and how they could fundamentally change the idea of apps, or distinct pieces of software in general.
First, though, when we talk about chatbots, what are we actually talking about?
The basic idea is “conversation as a platform.” “Bots” — as people have begun to shorten them — are virtual assistants, software programs that you can talk to in order to get stuff done. Think Siri, but better.
And this isn’t exactly a new idea.
We have had conversations with bots all the way back to the 1960s, and they were popular on platforms like AIM — remember SmarterChild? The problem was these old bots didn’t do much beyond provide a laugh.
The reason for the current buzz is that people think we’ve reached a point with artificial intelligence, and natural-language processing in particular, that this new crop of bots will be the one that breaks through to become something beyond a novelty and provides actual value to our lives.
Imagine being able to talk to an app like you would a human assistant. It fulfills many people’s sci-fi dreams and it’s a concept that’s easy to understand.
But the reason why bots have the potential to upend the current order of things isn’t just in their ability to understand speech, but the ramifications that functionality will have on the idea of an “operating system.” Put simply, bots could blow up the traditional way we interact with software.