At its Build conference this past spring, Microsoft unveiled the latest killer feature for its Skype service: Chatbots. Chatbots are bots, as the name implies, that can chat intelligently with users to give them the information they're looking for quickly and easily. While customer service is a focal point of many chatbots, we've likely yet to see the full potential of these natural language-equipped AI beings.
In fact, we've yet to see the full potential of chatbot adoption, too. In a recent blog post, Microsoft notes that an impressive 30,000 developers have begun working with Skype's chatbots feature since it was announced, and given that initial surge, the company isn't planning to slow down its development or support.
At the forefront of this latest features rollout is Groups, which allows chatbots to address more than one person at a time. Take for example a scenario where a family is inquiring about hotel rooms; some members of the family may have different questions to ask, enhancing the information that can be returned to the user(s).
Another added feature is Cards, which allows bots to respond not with plain text, but a "card" filled with information. Again, going back to the hotel room example, if a user asks what rooms are available, the bot could respond with cards showing off only the rooms that are available, while foregoing the ones that are sold out. Hotel bookings are a great use case example for chatbots, but the applications could go far beyond that. Car dealers, furniture stores, clothing stores, and so on, would all be able to take great advantage of this technology.
Three other useful features added to the latest chatbots update includes improved natural language detection (think improved understanding of mannerisms), third-party authentication (allowing users to connect the chatbot to an account they have with the company - eg: a hotel chain), and finally, a combining of the Skype Bot Platform with Microsoft Bot Framework so that developers can both develop and promote their bots better.
What's next? With the way technology is going, it's only a matter of time before chatbots are used for much more than just customer service. Feeling lonely? No problem - you have a friend in Skype chatbot. If that seems creepy to you or not, that definitely seems to be a part of our future.