One of the biggest transformations in how people interact with computers was the graphical user interface (GUI), which replaced the command-line interfaces of the 1980s with dynamic and visual user interfaces populated by buttons and windows. The change was intended to bring digital experiences closer to our experience in the real world, which is filled with physical objects that represent our work and play spaces.
But as computers become more powerful, and the services that run on them become more sophisticated, new interface paradigms are necessary for humans to more closely relate to the digital experiences in our lives. This is where bots come in—a new way to interface with computers that more nearly approximates the experience of interfacing with a friend.
Chat bots are web-assisted programs that allow users to perform actions or get information that would have traditionally required opening an app or navigating to a website. Need the weather? Shoot off a chat message to a Slack bot and get an immediate response. Want to shop for new clothes? Ping a Messenger bot for images and prices from your favorite store. Put simply, bots represent a way to perform the same actions we’re accustomed to on mobile devices in a new way, a way that’s more intuitive and expressive than ever before.
Bots perform the same actions we’re used to on mobile devices in a new way—a way that’s more intuitive and expressive than ever before.
This approach works because technologies exist to understand users in natural language, allowing anyone to compose requests and have the computer understand them. Whereas app user experiences before mandated that users engage with them on the apps’ terms—having static buttons and a limited set of input options—chat interfaces and natural language processing allow users to engage with apps on their own terms, choosing how they express their requests from within their natural speaking style and using their own language.
Just as the GUI’s “desktop metaphor” helped bring an increased level of familiarity to digital experiences in the 1980s, so too do bots bring an increased level of familiarity and comfort to engaging with digital systems in 2016. Billions of people chat with friends and loved ones on their mobile devices, sending trillions of texts and iMessages and WhatsApp messages every day. It’s a natural extension that they would begin chatting with their mobile apps, too.
Going forward, this new experience will evolve to support voice input, and products like Amazon Echo and Google Home are the first players in this new category. The closer to ordinary life that a digital experience can feel, the better—asking Siri about the weather will be the modern equivalent of having “folders” on your “desktop.”