There’s a Bot for That—Or There Could Be

Since 1998, Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, has been releasing its “Mindset List.” It’s a wake-up call or level-setting list to help professors and administrators better understand who their new students are. The revelations can be jaw-dropping. For instance, the most recent list tells us this about the upcoming graduating glass of 2020:

  • They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time.
  • If you want to reach them, you’d better send a text—e-mails are often ignored.
  • Books have always been read to them on
  • Bluetooth® has always been keeping them wireless and synchronized.

The world is changing rapidly, and technology is driving many of these changes—often in ways we’re unaware of. Consider chatbots, for instance. You may have never heard of them, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to interact with Amazon’s Alexa or have posed a question to Siri or Cortana, you’ve been exposed to a chatbot—or bot.

The World of Chatbots

In fact, if you’re a Facebook Messenger user, chances are you’ve been exposed to a number of bots through text-messaging applications. In fact, Facebook Messenger is the undisputed chatbot leader today, with an estimated 100,000 bots on the platform. The bots can be used to keep up to date with big-name celebrities, to get product updates from brands, to stay on top of the news—and for many more applications.
Bots can be either text- or voice-based (like Alexa or Siri). They are simply automated ways of interacting with organizations and others without people being involved. Smartphones and Facebook have likely boosted their use by a wide range of brands and celebrities and, increasingly, organizations. Advances in natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) promise to enhance capabilities significantly.
Basically, what a chatbot does is automate a business process by providing a conversationally based interaction. According to TechEmergence, chatbots will be the top consumer application of AI over the next 5 years.

Practical Applications

Chatbots have an opportunity to aid training and development professionals as well. In a September 2016 article for Chief Learning Officer, Michael Noble, Allen Communication, shared a number of examples:

  • Coaching
  • Finding answers to common questions
  • Performance support
  • Drilling and practice
  • Simulations
  • Social learning

Consider, for example, how you might use a chatbot to allow employees to customize information they receive about company events or news. Or, how a bot might be used as a handy tool for employees to receive information about benefit options. Or, to ask questions about HR or other company policies. Or, as a means of easy access to training session information after the training is over. The possibilities really are endless.

Getting It Done

Best of all, it’s relatively easy—and inexpensive to create your own bot with tools like Facebook Messenger. A Chatbots Journal article offers a comparison of an additional 25 top chatbot platforms.
Looking ahead to the not-so-distant future, it’s likely that Beloit’s “Mindset List” will reveal that the college graduating class of 2038 will never have known a time when they couldn’t simply issue a voice-related request or command—from their homes, from their cars, from anywhere they happen to be—that a bot would immediately respond to.