As technology advances, so does its application to new ideas and tasks. In the world of digital learning, we are now starting to benefit from the use of artificial intelligence (AI). In our roundup of Learning Technologies 2017, we outlined AI as something to watch this year.
Unless you’ve been sleeping for the past year, you’ll have seen many headlines on ‘bots’ and artificial intelligence (AI), how this is the next big thing, especially in relation to mobile computing and our App ecosystem. There’s even talk of how bots will boost the march of Facebook – as if that was really needed!
So let’s back up a bit. What exactly are bots?
A bot is a tool that helps users complete tasks which can be easily automated. Many current bots are chat-based and are bundled inside messenger apps. You think you are ‘talking’ to a human, but you aren’t – it’s an automated service that can make sense of what you are typing. The chatbot, depending on the service it is attached to, can then transform your typing into commands that can be executed.
Put simply, you can ask a bot to do things for you – quickly, efficiently and without having to wait for a human to respond. Other bots automate time-consuming interactions – like sending and replying to common types of emails and scheduling meetings. Bots depend on artificial intelligence. And it’s our increasing skill and development in AI that is driving the bot revolution. It is hoped that once the technology develops further, bots will be able to many more complicated tasks - from completing your taxes to monitoring your working and living habits. Put this together with other developments such as the IoT (internet of things) and wearable technology, the possibilities seem endless.
Why chatbots and why not apps?
As consumers, we are demanding more and more of our mobile devices – our expectations are increasingly raised, as mobile tech gets more powerful. It can be time consuming and complicated downloading single apps and content bundles for separate services. Bots put users in charge of creating the experience they want, rather than having to navigate specific content and services in the web and app ecosystem. Think - Cortana, Google Now and Siri. Instead of wading through mountains of content or using a specific App, you ask the tech to bring it to you.
Chatbots to try out
Eliza – the original chatbot built in the 1960s, a computer therapist
ELIZA emulates a Rogerian psychotherapist. This was one of the earliest natural language processing Apps.
Mobile coach - A virtual coach that can be programme with your content
This type of chatbot has a potential application to support L&D with programme rollout.
Chatbots were added to Facebook Messenger late last year. From this site, you can choose to add to your main Facebook messenger list. For example, I added a bot called Real deal English. You can see it in action here.
What’s interesting about the Facebook chatbots is they are more than just chat – many of them are learning tools. The Real deal English chatbot asks you various questions about the type of English you want to study, then directs you to a lesson. The lesson is short and sweet – there’s a podcast which has a real business conversation (if you choose business English), then once you finish the podcast, you are returned to the chatbot for drill and practice. The chatbot actually talks to you in the same way as the conversation flowed in the podcast – helping you to practice that type of English. Here is a screenshot of the conversation.
Further reading on artificial intelligence and chatbots
There is no doubt that chatbots will get better and better – as our AI and NLP capabilities progress. There is a lot of research going on right now, so here’s a few more articles to keep you learning.
Chat with our Learning Technologists (real not chatbots!)