The Bot, the whole bot and nothing but the bot

19 January 2017

Bots have been getting a bad rep in the news recently. You may have seen articles on ticket touts using botnets to buy up tickets to concerts and events only to sell them on to fans at extortionate prices or smart devices connected to the internet of things being used in cyber attacks. But do we really know what bots are and can they be put to a better use?

Bots, at their simplest, are software applications that perform automated tasks. They can perform tasks that are simple and repetitive at a much faster pace than humans. With the rise of artificial intelligence (‘AI’), the range of tasks bots can perform is becoming wider. Siri and Cortana, the Apple and Microsoft personal assistants, are bots. So is self-propagating malware.

Bots are slated to replace apps in making our lives easier. They can place your take-away order, give you outfit ideas when browsing clothing retailers’ websites, or manage your calendar - without the end user having to browse through multiple different apps to perform these tasks. Firms are changing the nature of their customer service by having chatbots handle the simpler, more routine questions submitted by customers online, freeing the human agents up to deal with more complex issues. Bots are also present on social media sites, either to support the user as part of the app (Facebook Messenger) or used to spam and follow accounts and even make posts themselves (Twitter).

On the darker side of the Internet, bots and botnets are used to host fraudulent websites and carry out DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks. Cyber security providers Symantec and Bullguard consider bots to be one the more severe types of threats out there. A computer infected by a bot can be used to carry out a variety of tasks including stealing personal information or sending out viruses and spyware.

The question of whether bots are doing more harm than good is a difficult one. They may be used for illegal purposes by hackers but at the same time, as bots become more sophisticated, they will be able to automate a much broader range of tasks than they are capable of now. Imagine, if in addition to making your restaurant reservations, bots could also take care of tasks such as applying for a visa for foreign travel.

Current reality of bots is that despite advances in AI, the tasks they can perform are limited to the simpler range of the spectrum.

Despite all of this, AI will continue to improve and evolve, bots will become smarter and able to perform a broader range of tasks and one day, in the not too distant future and with a few lines of instructions, I may be able to ask a bot to write this article for me.

Could bots further enhance your business?

 

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