The Future of Work and Learning 2: Chatbots

robot-1339192_640In my previous post I looked at how I believe Professional Ecosystems are the future of work and learning, and how organisations (and L&D) might support them.  In this post I want to look at how individuals might make use of chatbots to build smart Professional Ecosystems, and how organisations might use them to provide intelligent access to their own content and services as well as offer personalised support to individuals.

Why chatbots?

First a bit of background: two things have happened recently that are considered to be big turning points. Firstly, use of mobile devices has now exceeded use of desktop machines to access the Internet, and secondly, people are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social networks.  This has led to predictions that messaging apps are destined to be the platforms of the future, but more than that, it is also considered that it will be through bots rather than apps that users will access all sorts of services.  In fact some go as far as to say that bots will cause a “near term disruption in how businesses interact with customers, and a long term paradigm shift in how people will interact with machines“.

What actually is a bot?

A bot, or as it is more commonly known, a chatbot, is a piece of software that’s designed to simulate a conversation with a (human) user in the interest of giving you information that you want or enable you to complete a transaction (source).

Conversational or chat bots, often make use of artificial intelligence and natural language processing technologies, and they’ve been around for some time. Take for instance, Alice and Evie. Their purpose is also to learn from you as they chat with you so that they can provide you with better answers to your questions.

It is true that a lot of the mobile chatbots that are to be found in messaging platforms are very primitive in comparison, as they only offer a strict set of preset commands to connect with a user. In other words they won’t “understand” anything outside of that command set, so, they certainly wouldn’t pass the Turing Test. But even these simple bots can provide some useful functionality, in as much as they can offer a level of automation or personalisation to content and services that was not so easily achievable before – for example they can make it easier to find something without having to do a Web search, or open up multiple apps. It’s clearly early days for bots, so this is just the beginning of what it is going to be possible in the future.

How you can incorporate bots into your Professional Ecosystem?

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 09.32.10Well, you could use them to interface intelligently with the content and service providers you already use (as I highlight on the diagram (right) I used in my previous post). Examples of their use might therefore be to ..

  • search for relevant or customised content (or courses) on say YouTube, Wikipedia or Coursera
  • receive relevant or customised news automatically (from news sources, blogs feeds, Twitter accounts)
  • receive customised productivity support (e.g. alerts, reminders, etc)
  • or to have an intelligent personal assistant (like Viv, which goes beyond the capabilities of current personal assistants like Siri and Cortona)

Where can you find bots?

More and more messaging apps are supporting bots, e.g. Facebook Messenger, Slack, Kik, WeChat, Skype and Telegram. There are even SMS bots, and Microsoft, Apple and Google are working on them too. (Note: WhatsApp doesn’t (yet?) have a bot platform)

Although Telegram is a less well known messaging app, it is considered to be much faster and more secure than Messenger or WhatsApp, and it also has a great little bot platform which means you can easily try out bots to see their potential. I have been using Telegram for a while now, and I am finding that it a useful platform to integrate a lot of the sources and tools in my own Professional Ecosystem. If you are interested in finding out more about Telegram, then here’s my Quick Guide to Telegram.

What about creating bots – who might do that?

Facebook considers the future lies in business to consumer apps, so 3rd party content and services providers will now be looking for ways to provide smart bots for users to access their offerings via Facebook Messenger apps. There are already bots for property searchesgetting up to date news bots, as well as for booking hotels.

But individuals might find a use for creating their own bots too, e.g. Esther created her own resume bot.

When it comes to the workplace, there is now talk of the “conversational office” (which Slack is spearheading) and how messaging bots will change workplace productivity over the next five years.

When it comes to L&D how might bots fit into their work? Well, they could be created = as I highlight on the diagram from an earlier post – to provide …

  • personalised recommendations about internal or external courses and training
  • a personalised feed of relevant curated content
  • on demand personalised productivity and performance support
  • a virtual learning coach or assistant (see this example of a university teaching assistant)
  • a virtual learning concierge service (perhaps something along the lines of this Radisson Blu hotel concierge bot)

So how do you create a bot? Well although creating bots that make use of sophisticated AI and natural language processing requires a high level of programming skill, many of the messaging app platforms have opened up their bot platforms for 3rd party developers, so building simple, command-set driven bots is now within the reach of many people.

What this means is that organisations can now create bots for popular messaging systems so that employees can connect with organisational systems using their own preferred messaging apps. That would mean a big change in the workplace – where systems would now adjust to people; not people to them!

One Comment

  1. Derek Bailey

    Thank you for a fascinating and highly informative article.
    I now know what a “bot” is.
    And yes major change and shifts again.
    Derek B

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