According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, "Chatbots are [...] increasingly used in particular for mental health applications, prevention and behavior change applications (such as smoking cessation or physical activity interventions).". They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety. A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
Efforts by servers hosting websites to counteract bots vary. Servers may choose to outline rules on the behaviour of internet bots by implementing a robots.txt file: this file is simply text stating the rules governing a bot's behaviour on that server. Any bot that does not follow these rules when interacting with (or 'spidering') any server should, in theory, be denied access to, or removed from, the affected website. If the only rule implementation by a server is a posted text file with no associated program/software/app, then adhering to those rules is entirely voluntary – in reality there is no way to enforce those rules, or even to ensure that a bot's creator or implementer acknowledges, or even reads, the robots.txt file contents. Some bots are "good" – e.g. search engine spiders – while others can be used to launch malicious and harsh attacks, most notably, in political campaigns.
Yes, witty banter is a plus. But, the ultimate mission of a bot is to provide a service people actually want to use. As long as you think of your bot as just another communication channel, your focus will be misguided. The best bots harness the micro-decisions consumers experience on a daily basis and see them as an opportunity to help. Whether it's adjusting a reservation, updating the shipping info for an order, or giving medical advice, bots provide a solution when people need it most.
Although NBC Politics Bot was a little rudimentary in terms of its interactions, this particular application of chatbot technology could well become a lot more popular in the coming years – particularly as audiences struggle to keep up with the enormous volume of news content being published every day. The bot also helped NBC determine what content most resonated with users, which the network will use to further tailor and refine its content to users in the future.
If the success of WeChat in China is any sign, these utility bots are the future. Without ever leaving the messaging app, users can hail a taxi, video chat a friend, order food at a restaurant, and book their next vacation. In fact, WeChat has become so ingrained in society that a business would be considered obsolete without an integration. People who divide their time between China and the West complain that leaving this world behind is akin to stepping back in time.