Venture Explains: Chatbots

What are they?

Artificial intelligence programs that mimic being another human being when you interact, or ‘chat,’ with them via voice or text messages.

What can they be used for?

At the moment, there are chatbots on hand to advise you on what type of shoes to buy from fashion retailers like H&M. You can also interact with these fairly basic programs to access information from a host of weather and news apps. But more sophisticated chatbots are being developed that can actually understand language and learn its nuances over time. This is why so many tech companies like Microsoft and Google are beginning to view chatbots as the future of Internet user interfaces.

What can go wrong?

Some worry chatbots will put a lot of people out of work in the service sector jobs like call center operators. Still, the technology seems to have a long way to go before it can be considered truly intelligent. Take, for instance, Microsoft’s unfortunate experiment with a chatbot it created earlier this year called Tay. Soon after its launch, the program, which was designed to learn and interact with young, hip millennials over Twitter, began spewing out a series of racist messages taught to it by a group of mischief-makers from the infamous 4chan forum.