How Bots Are Going To Make Your Life Easier

Photo: Courtesy Facebook.
Welcome to What The Tech?!, Refinery29's weekly column explaining the basics behind a buzzword or concept you've heard tossed around in conversation (but maybe don't actually understand). It seems like every app is adding some degree of artificial intelligence these days to become more helpful and easier to use. Another way AI is making its way into our daily lives is through our chats, thanks to bots. A bot is an AI-powered "person" you can chat with on a platform such as Facebook Messenger. In the olden days — the AOL Instant Messenger days — they were called chatterbots or chatbots (remember SmarterChild?). All these could do was reply to your messages in a semi-coherent way. And, of course, we've also seen less-sophisticated Twitter bots that automatically respond to your tweets in various (often hilarious) ways. Today's bots are a lot more advanced. They can do a variety of things: help you find information, help you make a purchase, or automate tasks for you. Bots are programmed to understand your questions and give you relevant information. Using a bot offers a more personalized searching experience than just using Google and, ideally, it's more convenient than having to hop out of your chat app and into another to get something done. A lot of app companies are making bots a companion to their app experiences. For example, ModiFace just launched a Facebook Messenger bot that can help you find and buy beauty products. After you upload a photo of yourself, it uses a combination of facial-tracking and simulation technology, as well as knowledge of more than 20,000 beauty products, to let you try on different looks (and then buy what you like), right in Messenger. The app Spring also has a Messenger bot that lets you search for and buy products, without having to head to the app. And on Tuesday, the app Burner launched a different type of bot: Ghostbot automatically responds to text messages for you in order to end a conversation (think a one-time Tinder date that just won't take the hint). This bot, fueled by hundreds of responses, can read the texts your sent from a particular contact and respond appropriately with phrases, such as, "Sorry, I'm just completely overwhelmed with work" or an emoji. Microsoft is also letting developers build bots for Skype. But while they're helpful, bots aren't going to take over apps anytime soon. Bots make it a whole lot easier to make real-time requests, such as ordering pizza or calling an Uber, and hopefully could replace those awful phone-based automated systems when you need to reschedule a flight, for example. Bots are just another way to get stuff done — and you're going to start seeing a lot more of them in the coming months.

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