In Ex Machina, a popular sci-fi film of 2015, Oscar Isaac, who played the role of eccentric AI programmer famously quoted, “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in the dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.” While the sci-fi film elaborated on the notion of Humanoids, which are almighty robots designed to look like humans powered by AI, there lays something much simpler, which will perhaps turn out to become a stepping stone in future in the way human-AI communicate.
2016 is all about the rage of messaging bots. So what exactly is this fuss all about? If we had to select a point in the cycle of hype, probably, we would be approaching the high-end of inflated presumptions. Or, we could easily end up bumping into the stack fallacy, why? It’s because we trivialized them as “simple bots”.
Bots Are The Next Frontier
“You are a developer,” Steve Jobs, former Apple boss, pointed out eight years ago while introducing an online store for apps, “You’ve spent almost two weeks creating this amazing application. What is your dream?” he asked thousands of developers watching him, “Your dream is to get your app in front of iPhone users, all of them.” Initially, only some paid the store much heed, but once it was launched, the store became the fastest-growing market of software ever reported in the history. Yes, that’s right. We’re talking about the App Store, in case, you were wondering. Since the launch, more than 100bn apps have been downloaded, in return generating revenue of $40bn for app creators and extra billions in fees and subscriptions.
While Apple was busy amassing revenues from the app business, Google, wasn’t far behind, as it re-launched the Android Market as Google Play in 2012. Following Apple’s footsteps, Google’s market became a worldwide hit taking the account of the growing popularity of Android community back in 2012. China, always known for its love for copying, was going through a difficult conundrum, but was never going to sit and wait as Western giants reaped profits and higher sales. So, it introduced its own App Market. At present, China accounts for more than 100 local app markets.
The apps continued to drive revenues and profits for business until bots knocked the doors. At a conference in San Francisco, Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled an online store and coding supplements for “chatbots”. These were text-based services, which allowed users accomplish tasks such as booking a flight, ordering food, checking the news, and organizing meetings by using short texts. The introduction arrived as a major blow to Apple and Google, who were then dominants of the app markets. Draped in the veil of vanity, they never saw the bot revolution coming. Sure, they had Siri and Google Voice, but it was never enough.
The bots are certainly a powerful form of interaction between humans and AI. Facebook marked the beginning of another multi-billion-dollar, fastest growing software economy, making bots the new apps.
Goodbye, Mr. App
The timing for “botvolution” looks just right. The mobile software market is in flux. The number of downloads is growing rapidly, but the app market is certainly maturing. The dream of an independent developer erecting a business in the market of apps is over. The bots are to be blamed along with the expensive cost of building and promoting apps. It looks like the enthusiasm of users for downloading apps is waning. The users have started finding, downloading and navigating a hassle. Almost a quarter of all, the downloaded apps have been found immediately abandoned after a single use.
In 2016, the ghost of Turing arrived to haunt the giants of Silicon Valley, which made it further difficult for bot apps to pass the test. Highly established firms are racing to develop bot technology that can interact with humans. Microsoft, a few months ago, unveiled the Microsoft Bot Framework, a set of software tools, which allows companies to build their own interactive robots. After all, building bots is very expensive.
Through an accurate combination of behind-the-scenes human interaction, scripts, and artificial intelligence, bots offer users to perform actions like order items by chatting, schedule a meeting, book hotel rooms, get weather information, etc. A majority of global firms have foreseen the potentials of the bot platforms. Big names like Poncho, 1-800- Flowers, and CNN have already integrated with Facebook’s bots.
App Bot Sales
The invasion of bots in the app market bears a striking resemblance to the full fledging economy of apps, circa 2009. Steve Jobs had launched the App Store for iOS the previous year, Google Play surfaced in 2012 following a major overhaul of Android Market, and the unconventional universe of local applications became subject to refrain on the various platforms of media. Currently, the app economy is worth $50 billion, but bots have started threatening the existence of app civilization.
The same growth drivers that pushed apps to come out as the new frontiers are also responsible for propelling the bot economy. If Virtual and Augment Reality are the new frontiers of the hardware market, chatbots are the same for the software market. The lines of bot battles are extremely different from the normal app wars. Building an app is relatively easy, but getting machines to actually comprehend and hold real conversations in a language preferred by the user is much harder. Microsoft’s Tay became a legendary example of failed interactive efforts as the fun loving AI bot inspired by the millennials, suddenly turned into a Hitler-loving, genocidal maniac.
Debut of Chatbots in Early Economy
The upcoming market for chatbots is fragmented amid a different group of players. While Apple and Google ruled the app economy, the first company to invade the market with bots was the Canadian messaging app Kik. The company is known as one of the earliest pioneers of chatbots. Kik offered users to interact with chatbots and request information through chats from services such as Vine, Funny or Die, or The Weather Channel.
Slack, popular as software for office productivity, encouraged new-age startups to develop chatbots on its platform. Taco Bell too jumped the bandwagon for chatbots. Tellingly, the web giants based in the U.S., who happen to be forging ahead of the way with bot platforms, do not rule app business even though they are the force behind the flourishing app economy. This makes sense, though. Google and Apple will have to face serious issues as soon as the bots will take over the app functionality. Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook, on the other hand, will have a lot to gain. In short, everyone who missed the chance of winning the app wars still has a chance with the chatbots.
Are Bots Likely To Eat Apps?
Yes. If tech behemoths like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon are the front runners in the chatbot economy, the ecosystem of apps is much likely to face a huge threat in the upcoming years. Google and Apple will be the first ones to get affected by the bot invasion as the app economy is worth $50bn business and this can change if bots start replacing apps in smart devices.
Owning the popularity of chat platforms like Messenger and Skype, commerce oriented chatbots would automatically give these firms a huge monopoly in the market. Of course, within this span of time, it’ll do away with the apps.
As of now, the Bots still have a long way to go. Even today, most of the bots are unable to pass the Turing Test. This doesn’t mean that its growth potential will become any less. If larger players like Facebook and Amazon enter the bot ecosystem, one can easily bid farewell to Apps. Who needs App when you can chat?