Facebook Messenger is rising in popularity, but pretty soon you may not know whether or not you are speaking to an actual human being. That’s because chat bots are becoming more and more popular, and some companies, such as the Dutch airline KLM, are using them to run their customer service. It may not rise to the level of the Turing test (yet), but it is still early days yet.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg introduced chat bots at the recent Facebook Developer Conference, developers have been submitting their bots for Facebook approval. Right now, each bot has to be individually reviewed and approved by Facebook, so there are no spammy ones yet, similar to what you would find on Google Play.
Here are some of the more interesting ones. To get started, click on the link and then “Get Started” at the bottom. If there is no “Get Started” link, then typing “help” normally wakes the bot up and says something to you. Another interesting thing to note is that you can, by ticking the relevant boxes in each bot, block all sponsored messages and also temporarily mute all notifications.
They may be getting mocked (even by President Obama) for the low standard of their news coverage, but CNN is always showing their determination to innovate and embrace new technologies. So when Facebook chatbots were introduced, CNN wasted no time in getting their one out the door first.
When you first start the bot, you are offered “Top stories”, “Stories for you” or “Ask CNN“. If you decide to choose one, you will get a summary each day in that area, and you can easily unsubscribe if the updates are starting to bother you. You can also enter keywords to be given the relevant information. For example, if you type “headlines“, CNN will give you the top headlines. If you type “politics“, you get the politics news. “Showbusiness” will get you the latest on who is sleeping with whom and who is getting checked into a drug rehab clinic. You get the idea.
Apple’s Siri set off the craze for AI assistants on your smartphone, and Microsoft brought out Cortana for their phones and Windows 10. But developers have been trying to make bots that will integrate with your chat program to remind you to do certain things at certain times. Which is all very commendable but I think everyone’s hard work will be permanently eclipsed when Facebook finally brings out their own long-awaited AI assistant, entitled “M” (of course it is).
Hello Jarvis is a simple bot with one job — to remind you to do something at a certain time. So if you look at the screenshot above, you say “remind me to [insert task here] at [insert time here]”. Or you can say the time first then the task. Whatever. Jarvis is a clever owl. He understands what you are saying. Just don’t ask him where Hogwarts is. He doesn’t like that stereotype.
There seems to be a strange phenomenon where, if you need to exercise, you can’t be bothered and you go back to binge watching Game of Thrones. But if you have a Fitbit on your wrist, or a smartphone app waiting for results, then suddenly you’re flying out the door in your Nike shorts, and humming “Eye of the Tiger”.
GymBot offers to be your stats keeper if you are a Facebook Messenger user. As you can see from the screenshot above, you need to send the stats in a certain format. It will then store the stats in its database, and you can view them at any time to monitor your progress. Sorry, but it doesn’t give any motivating pep talks.
Digg was a force to be reckoned with a decade ago, and then it just disappeared. Now it’s back, and the team are hard at work proving that Digg is a great place to be again. Every morning, I get Digg Editions sent to my email inbox, which contains a summary of the best Digg links. And their videos page is also excellent. Many people also love Digg Reader, although I was not too enamoured by it.
The Digg chatbot is a lot like the CNN chatbot, but with a kind of more relaxed layout. Typing “Trending” gets you the latest news, and if you type in keywords such as “tech”, “politics“, or “digg“, you will get the relevant sections instantly delivered to you.
Are you constantly stuck on what to make for dinner? Instead of heading to the freezer for that frozen pizza again, why not try the “Dinner Ideas” bot? After subscribing, you can choose to have one delicious recipe sent to you either every day or every week, or never. If you do choose to get the recipe, and you need it right now, you can just type “rotd” to get it immediately.
You can also send it a list of ingredients (say, what is in your fridge), and it will suggest recipes for you. You can also tell it the name of something, such as “lasagne” and it will bring up what it thinks are the best lasagne recipes.
“Assist” is another AI assistant, which will help you out with basic tasks. You can see the menu of things it can do for you, and you simply choose the task and follow the on-screen instructions. It will then presumably reach out to whichever service it is contracted with to get the task done. Obviously it is not free, so get ready to plonk some cash down.
The “Send a Letter” one is interesting. You can choose between a printed letter ($1.99) or a handwritten letter ($2.99). Although, the letter is restricted to 35 words, so you can’t send big steamy romantic letters to your other half. Not unless you write it in Haiku form.
Next in the “holding your hand” range of bots is Fynd, which is a shopping bot. Just say what you are looking for, and it starts scooting off all round the Internet looking for the best deals for you. The company is based in Mumbai, so this bot is probably only useful for Indian residents.
The bot initially suggests looking for “Nike shoes for men”. Being really awkward, I instead opted for “Adidas shoes for men” and moments later, I got some hits. If you choose one, it takes you to the Fynd website, where you can buy them and have them sent out. The bot is basically a mobile form of their website, but is still good if you are standing in the middle of a store, and you need a quick price comparison. Pity it is only confined to India, though.
It is said that everyone has at least one start-up idea in them. But for some people, that idea is proving elusive (I’m convinced my million dollar idea is in me someplace). Kukie is a really useful bot which gives you startup ideas, as well as resources for starting a startup business, or resources if you are already running something.
As well as startup ideas, it helps with names, logos, domains, marketing, and much more. If you are thinking of starting a business, or are running one that could use a bit of improvement, then Kukie may be what you need to spark the old brain cells.
Running an airline is extremely competitive, especially with all the budget airlines out there, such as “Wing and a Prayer”, “Toilets R Extra”, and “Standing Room Only”. So cheap fares abound, but quite often they are hard to find. After all, the airlines do want you flying full fare whenever possible.
Flight search services abound on the Internet, but now the practise is spreading to chatbots. With Air Meekan, you tell it from where you are going to where you want to go. Then when you want to leave and when you want to return. The screenshot above shows how Air Meekan responded when I asked for a return ticket from New York to Moscow, returning in a month. Thankfully it didn’t suggest Aeroflot.
If you see a price that appeals to you, just tap on it and you will be taken to the partner website where you can book your travel.
We end with the Wall Street Journal, which is good for all of you who watch the stock markets carefully every day. Entering a company will give you its current share price, and whether the stock is rising or falling. You can also opt to see the financial news headlines.
Which Messenger Bots Do You Use?
New bots are slowly trickling in for Messenger, as Facebook approves them. But I’m sure that pretty soon, that review process will be sped up, and we will start to see a wide variety of useful bots in different areas. Burger King, eBay, and Bank of America are reportedly about to bring out their own bots. Get ready to order your burgers, bid for an item, and pay your bills all on Facebook Messenger.
Do you use these bots? What do you think of them? If you use a different Facebook Messenger bot, tell us about it in the comments below.
Image Credits:robot holding smartphone by Willyam Bradberry via Shutterstock