July 28, 2014
Online robots that chat with a brand’s customers are coming, The Wall Street Journal reports. This month, Kik, a popular chat app among U.S. teens, launched “chat bots,” through which users are can converse with a half-dozen brands, including Moviefone, Funny or Die, and the Kik team itself. Chat bots can entertain and inform customers, the Journal reports. “If you could chat with a brand in the same way you chat with a friend, that’s powerful,” says Ted Livingston, founder of Waterloo, Ontario-based Kik.
Programs designed to let humans converse with computers are not new, dating to the mid-1960s at MIT. But the chat bots now being developed can learn from their conversations, appearing to become more intelligent. A bot called “Mitsuku” reportedly told an interviewer last year: “What keeps me going is when I get emails or comments in the chat-logs from people telling me how Mitsuku has helped them with a situation, whether it was dating advice, being bullied at school, coping with illness or even advice about job interviews. I also get many elderly people who talk to her for companionship.”
For now, telling jokes is the closest that the Kik team’s own chat bots come to simulating actual conversation, and those belonging to brands respond only by pushing more content at the user. Livingston says that’s deliberate. And some still worry that an autonomous chat bot might say things that could damage a brand. — Greg Beaubien