Why bots are taking over your phone

Apps are so 2015. The future of mobile is bots

If the last several weeks have felt like a bots bonanza, it's really just the beginning.

Tech firms have been working on ways to integrate bots into our lives for some time, and now, many have seemingly - suddenly - figured it out.

In their current iteration, bots live inside chat apps. Facebook Messenger, Kik, Skype - you name it, bots are on it, or coming soon.

But why the big focus on bots? Artificial intelligence has been the darling of the tech world for a while, but why does it need to live inside Facebook Messenger? What do bots offer that average apps don't?

Many consider chatbots - bots, for shot - as merely a fancy replacement for 1-800 numbers, and while they might eventually replace having to call customer service, that's not their whole purpose.

"We don't see bots as a like-for-like replacement for apps, but rather a complementary offering that gives people a new way to interact with the brands and media outlets they love," Benjie Levy, president and COO of theScore, tells techradar.

theScore just launched a bot for Messenger, aimed at delivering game results and other news whenever users want.

"For organizations like theScore, which already has millions of users on its mobile sports apps, this opens a new way for us to deliver live scores and news to sports fans in a way that's totally native to messaging platforms, tapping into a new audience," Levy says.

Bot-any

I've seen plenty of people ask, so here's an explanation: bots are essentially automated programs designed to perform the same task over and over. They carry out their jobs extremely quickly, much faster than a human is capable of.

Despite the sudden popularity, bots really aren't anything new. Companies have been using crude ones on their websites for years now - have you ever gone to an online help section only to chat with what's clearly not a real person? Yes, sometimes it's a robotic person you're speaking to, but with increasing frequency it's a machine you're communicating back and forth with.

Bots

(Credit: Kik)

As of late, though, we're starting to see the rise of a different kind of bot. These bots are refined, and don't just answer questions - they help you interact with the world, all at a simple prompt, and sometimes without one at all.

They can give you a weather report when you wake up in the morning, book your next hotel room, buy you a pair of shoes or... deliver sports scores.

In their current incarnation, which is, to be frank, an early one, bots typically use information that you've previously provided to complete tasks. For example, once you input your credit card information for one payment, a bot can use it again, eliminating the need for you to enter it every time you want to pay for a good or service.

Some bots will get faster over time, anticipating your needs or learning what you mean when you use more conversational, non-keyword laden language.

Great! Throw away all your old apps, get a bunch of bots and life will be a piece of pre-programmed cake, right?

Not so fast.

Companies like Microsoft and Facebook are invested in making bots helpful and intelligent, but as they exist now, bots won't replace apps. They live inside them, after all.