Many people hearing “bot” today may think of the recent boondoggle over at Microsoft. In March, the tech giant launched a Twitter bot named Tay – a fully automated AI capable of communicating, constructed to project the tone and language of a teenage girl. The seemingly innocuous project went south quickly. As often occurs with online PR initiatives, the internet’s ever-committed trolls set out to do their dirty work. After a torrent of racist, pro-nazi, misogynistic input from the public, Tay turned around and began imitating the hateful rhetoric, praising Hitler and deploying violent language against minorities.
This simple technology – deployed here to dubious effect – may have more far-reaching implications than one would imagine. Some tech insiders are saying that bots are the future of digital communications, and will rewrite the playbook for mobile technology. In case this turns out to be true, nonprofits need to pay heed.
To provide a bit more context, bots are essentially chat-based interfaces. While digital consumer goods have made voice assistants – such as Siri – a common fixture of daily life, text bots may be just around the corner. The most optimistic vision sees bots as a one-stop location for information – a portal through which a user can receive messages and data from her/his email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and virtually any other digital portal, all collected and accessible in a centralized location. Additionally, bots are designed to learn. This means that manual information searches will develop an AI that can predict a user’s next move, pointing to a future in which people’s consumer technology may preempt their own search queries.
Facebook recently revealed bots on the platform’s messenger service, a product that the firm hopes to develop to the point that users can begin interfacing with businesses and costumer service portals in real time without waiting in line. While less disastrous than Microsoft’s Tay initiative, initial reviews of the Facebook bot are lukewarm at best. David Marcus – head of product design for Facebook’s message service – nonetheless has a more optimistic take on the development of M, Facebook’s bot:
We have two goals with this one. One is building the product into something awesome, and that’s going to take years for everyone to have access to it. And then also building tools so that the whole ecosystem of things can be built around it. And those two can coexist, because if you have awesome bots that can do things, then if you ask M it can point you in the right direction.
If bots pick up steam, it could alter the digital communications landscape. Apps – the most common way that businesses and organizations can circumvent the slowness of mobile internet speed – faced a number of issues in 2015. Studies revealed that the average smartphone user only accessed three apps on a regular basis. Marketing to garner more attention on the medium continues to be insanely expensive. Taken together, these realities make apps a less-than-ideal investment for organizations looking to make optimum use of their resources.
Bots could theoretically render most applications obsolete, as the AI would be capable of navigating, collating, and explaining vast sets of data from a variety of different portals and platforms. Applying this vision to nonprofit communications, fundraising professionals could stand to benefit from the streamlined communications channel presented by bots. How best to insert your organization into this inventive and constantly evolving field, however, is still a little murky. Stay tuned as Key Elements Group continues to cover these fascinating tech trends for the benefit of nonprofit and development professionals.