The final post in this month’s Tech Terms series is Chatbots. This post continues from the post on Natural Language Processing so check out that post if you want some further background. There is a lot of hype about robots taking jobs and chatbots are a good early representation of that possibility.
Chatbots are computer programs designed to interact with people in a more conversational manner. They can provide simple interactions such as providing information, taking orders or making bookings. As more people interact with organisations via the internet rather than in real life, it is possible to substitute chatbots in place of front line staff.
Chatbots are an easy way to resolve website overwhelm. Many people go to an organisation’s webpage but can’t find what they are looking for. Rather than go up and down the website menus (or hunting around in endless Google search results) to find information, the visitor can use the Chatbot as an assistant to take you straight to the right information.
Check out Tim at Timaru District Council for an example of a chatbot who is a local government customer service representative. If you haven’t used a chatbot before ask him some simple questions – remembering he is at the front counter of the council, not the planning helpdesk.
Are chatbots limited to front line staff only? No, pioneering councils are looking at chatbots to provide planning information.
Enfield Council in the UK did experiment with a chatbot for the planning helpdesk – more about that here. You can also interact with the Milton Keynes Council planning chatbot here (she should pop up in the bottom right corner). If you are not familiar with planning jargon in the UK, try asking about ‘tree removal’, ‘permitted development’ or ‘conservation areas’ to see the type of answers provided by this chatbot “planner”.
So chatbots offer the ability to provide information and answer simple repetitive questions on our behalf. This has to be a real positive. Of course there is more to chatbots than this, but the above should give you an introduction.