Emerging TechnologyBots, chatbots, robots, AI! Here’s why knowing the difference could set your company apart

Bots, chatbots, robots, AI! Here’s why knowing the difference could set your company apart

Bots, chatbots, robots, and AI are some of the most buzzed words in the industry right now, but even insiders are sometimes unclear on their differences. We get to the bottom of some common myths around new technologies.  

So far, 2018 has been all about new technology, and that’s a really good thing. If predictions around the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) are correct, new technology is on track to revolutionize every industry from healthcare to finance.

However, while other industries are still imagining future uses for machine learning, the martech industry is currently booming with automated solutions to common problems. As we rush to throw AI at all our pain points, myths and misconceptions abound. Here are some of the most common misconceptions, explained.

Myth: Bots, chatbots, and robots are the same thing

While the catch-all buzzword “bots” has been thrown around to describe everything from personal assistants like Siri and Alexa to services like Lyft, the term actually isn’t interchangeable with chatbot, and Alexa isn’t one. Instead, bots are automated programs that crawl the internet in search of specific information.

“Bots are little programs that do something automized with or without humans noticing” says Michael Brehm, founder and CEO of i2x, a company that uses machine learning to help train sales and support teams. When your phone recognizes a date in your text messages and suggests you add it to your Google calendar, you’re using bot technology.

Some of the confusion about the word bot comes from the recent conversation around chatbots, another industry buzzword. Chatbots are either set to revolutionize customer service and IT by making jobs obsolete or become the biggest industry disappointment of 2018, depending on who you ask.

The term chatbot has taken on weighted meaning, but at their core chatbots are simply programs designed to interact with humans through conversation. While bots perform automated tasks often behind the scenes, a chatbot must engage in the exchange of information such as checking flight times or listing openings for reservations.

“A chatbot performs a task automatically with the intention of interacting with humans,” Brehm says.

So where do robots fit into all of this? They don’t. A robot is a term used to describe machinery that interacts with the physical world for specific tasks, like a roomba, or in some weird cases, a security guard.  

Myth: All chatbots use AI

We often use the term artificial intelligence to describe any piece of technology that mirrors human interaction, but technology that’s designed to answer very specific questions, like “What time is my flight,” isn’t really true AI.

“Engineers are always saying ‘Stop using that word [AI],’” Brehm says. “It sounds nice and is great for marketing. But what we have now is very good machine learning. We’re far away from programs that can learn for themselves.”

Brehm explains that while chatbots are very good at answering pre-programmed questions, they’re not yet able to go off script or adapt to complex human needs. ClickZ’s Mike O’Brien recently discovered this when he tried to ask Bank of America’s chatbot about refinancing student loans, stumping the program and making the conversation more difficult than chatting with a human.  

Chatbots are a great way to save users the trouble of going through tedious automated lists, and an excellent way for innovative brands to drive leads and in-store traffic to top-of-funnel customers, but the rush to replace human contact in sales and customer service departments might just be costing marketers money.

Myth: Customers hate talking to humans

According to a recent prediction by Gartner, by 2020 85% of a customer’s relationship with a brand will be through technology, rather than human interaction. That lines up with speculation that 80% of companies will be using chatbots by 2020.

But are chatbots really what customers want? Last March, a consumer study by PwC found that 8 in 10 U.S. consumers still want to talk to a humanno matter how good technology gets.

The rush to automate could come at the expense of customer satisfaction. One industry-wide problem Brehm has noticed is technology that actually creates, rather than solves, problems for users.

“People overestimate automation in the business world,” Brehm says. “There’s this impression that wonder programs will solve every problem. In truth, they do certain things well, but they still need human involvement.”

For example, a consumer chatting with a hotel might have questions about adding cots for children to a room with a single bed. The question is complex, and needs human involvement. Neglecting the human element could mean customers becoming fed up with the technology that’s supposed to simplify their problem.  

Myth: Technology is coming for our jobs

The media is full of doom and gloom numbers that predict automation putting us all out of a job sometime in the near future. Another PwC report claims that 38% of all U.S. jobs will be replaced by robots and AI in the next 20 years.

Others, like Brehm, believe that companies should actually start creating new roles to bridge the gap between customers and automation.

“Companies should be working on combining both worlds,” Brehm says. “They should have one or two people on hand who think full-time about the intersection of software to human handover, and we should still be making sure our best employees are interacting with our best customers.”  

There’s no doubt that bots, chatbots, and AI are changing the ways we think about data, customer service, and IT, but automation for automation’s sake might seem silly in a few years as emerging technologies settle into standard practices.

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