Digital marketing trends: The march of the chatbots

 In Articles

Worryingly, it seems, I spend the majority of my online life conversing with chatbots; online robots programmed to mimic human interaction. Whilst this is by no means a recent development, the quality of these interactions are becoming more and more authentic, so it comes as no surprise that brands are now heavily reliant on our mechanical brethren.

The media is rife with stories of people who have struck up some kind of ‘relationship’ with their at-home virtual valet, and I feel endlessly trapped in interminable exchanges with my bank’s automated teller who knows more advancements in my professional life than most of my closest friends.

In today’s culture of online communication, inviting people into our online lives has become the norm, renouncing the more traditional lines of physicality, so could it be that online AI is yet another vehicle for making us even more misanthropic?

For marketers, however, the march of the chatbots is a boon, with Grand View Research estimating the market to reach $1.2 billion by 2025.

Maintaining a healthy profit margin and limiting overheads is the most vital process to any business, and this relies on a company’s connection with its target market. Chatbots provide constant customer service, available 24/7 without needing to take a sick day or leave to squeeze a baby out of their uterus. The processes they deal with are simple and succinct, which is surely the Holy Grail of transactional perfection that every brand aspires to reach?

They’re also limitedly intuitive. Just talking about a certain product in the vicinity of Google’s virtual assistant is one way to ensure your future internet experience is plagued by banner ads for said product, an invasion of privacy if ever there was one.

The downside to all of this is that you’re talking to a robot. Their knowledge is limited and conversations can run in circles that can quickly become frustrating. Aside from the occasional display of beatboxing prowess as demonstrated by Apple’s Siri, the level of banter and emotion behind these transactions is unsurprisingly minimal. But this could very soon change.

Just in the past few days, Google have rolled out a new service called Google Duplex. Introduced at the keynote of the opening of Google I/O in May, Google Duplex is a new virtual assistant that can make phone calls on our behalf to reserve a table in a restaurant, make doctor’s appointments and even field the dreaded calls from the mother-in-law. It was an impressive demonstration of artificial voice advancements, with natural cadence and human inflections, indistinguishable from a real person, which sparked a conversation on the ethics of technology progression and the supposed human right that we should know when we’re talking to a machine.

Statistically it’s obvious why more brands are upping their use of chatbots or virtual assistants, as demonstrated in their efficacy for performing frontline, menial tasks. It’s only when we look at the access we’re giving these bots to our lives that we take a step back and wonder whether Amazon’s Alexa spontaneously whispering, ‘good night, Clarice’ (as per one woman’s account on Reddit) is the type of disembodied fear we want to invite into our homes.


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