Why all bots are not equal – And why a soapbox car is not called a Formula 1

This year has been my introduction to the world of artificial intelligence and bots. I must say that the terminology here is extremely confusing. We call a trivial button bot a chatbot, but we also call Conversational AI, based on a deep learning neural network– guess what – a chatbot, of course. It is a bit like comparing a soapbox car and a Rolls Royce and saying that both are cars, since both have four wheels and brakes. So what determines a car? And what determines a bot?

It has been quite staggering to observe that a task, which a simple bot can hardly stretch at their best, can be actually very trivial for the most advanced virtual assistants. Based on some live samples on random web sites I saw all too often very simple button bots popping up on most of the pages. They were usually asking whether you would be interested in “getting more sales” or “ordering a service” or “some other help.” And usually whichever button you press, the answer is “Hang on a sec, I will connect you with our customer service (or sales)”. In your mind, what is the actual added value of a bot here?

Similarly, I asked a bot placed on a bank’s website how to apply a credit card. I was at least as puzzled as the poor bot when I saw it typing to me that “sorry, I did not understand the question. Can you try something simpler?”.  I also asked an insurance bot what should I do after a car crash, but unfortunately it did not know, what a car crash is and offered me help of a human colleague. Oh, my! Maybe the exotic terms I was using “credit card” and “car accident” did not feel too relevant for those companies? Should I have been using more simple language “how one get credit card?” or “man woman car accident what do?”. Somehow I was just not feeling very comfortable writing “in bottish”. I prefer using my mother tongue. – Or maybe those bots just happened to have quite lousy algorithm in them.

Having said that, fortunately, on some websites you can also find pretty advanced true Conversational AI bots that switch the language when you switch it e.g. from Swedish to English. They also answer fluently questions like “what does it cost” to show they understand contextual questions.  And they can recognize the word despite spelling mistakes like “crdeit cardd” or “caar acccident”. Super!

Let’s hope that different bots get their own names and terms at some point soon. So, we do not have to always show a demo to prove that our car also has an engine, head lights, windscreen wipers and a touch screen – and all built-in at no extra cost.

Incidentally, we will be soon releasing a guide to describe what are the differences between various kinds of bots . When reading it, you can may think whether you need a soapbox car, a light vehicle, a family car, a truck or a racing car. A car is a car, right? Or maybe not. Better read the guide when it comes out!