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About ChatbotsApril 6, 2017Written by Alex Debecker

A Chatbot Definition for not so Technical People

chatbot definition non techn

As a chatbot building company, we obviously talk about what chatbots are all the time.

We write about how to build them, how to improve their results, how to engage and retain users, how to use them in various industries, and so on.

Every once in a while, though, we're put back into place with a simple sentence:

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Right. Some people just don’t know what a chatbot actually is.

Never mind retention and engagement. Forget artificial intelligence and machine learning. Don’t even think about cross-platform chatbot development (yeah, we do that).

Let’s put all the advanced stuff aside for a moment and answer the following simple question.

Note: the chatbot industry is full of complex keywords and terms. While this article focuses solely on chatbots, I realise there is so much more for you to catch up on. If you would like to learn about other words like intent, NLU, and machine learning; head over to our Essential Chatbot Glossary (for Non-Geeks)!

 

What is a chatbot? (The somewhat technical version)

A chatbot is a program that communicates with you, most commonly using a text interface and artificial intelligence.

This is, I believe, the best definition of a chatbot.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really help the less technical people in our audience. Hence this article.

Let’s expand on this definition and make it more accessible to everyone, technical or not.

 

It’s not a generation thing

Before moving further, I want to make this clear. Not knowing what a chatbot is has nothing to do with generation (or age, however you want to put it).

The chatbot industry is very new, basically no one knows what they are. In fact, our industry leaders have not even settled on a name for them yet.

Chatbot? Chat bot? Chatter bot? Chatbox? Chatter box?

You will find all of them out there. We, at ubisend, stick with ‘chatbot’.

So, do not feel bad for not knowing. You literally are in the vast majority.

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An accessible definition of chatbots

A chatbot is a computer program that mimics the way humans communicate.

You, the user, can talk to the chatbot and the chatbot will reply to you in a human-ish behaviour.

There are two key parts of the 'official' chatbot definition above.

 

1. A text interface

Most chatbots are used via text. That means, for you to talk to it, you would use a keyboard (or a keypad on your phone).

Usually, these chatbots live in messaging applications like Facebook Messenger. You type something, send it to the chatbot, and the chatbot replies (generally with text as well).

I did, however, say 'most commonly'. Indeed, some chatbots can be voice based. A good example of that is Siri, a chatbot that lives on iPhones. You can talk to Siri, ask it things or give it commands, and it will reply to you also by voice.

More recently, you can think of Amazon Echo's Alexa as a voice activated chatbot.

 

2. Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence sounds kind of scary for two reasons: one, we think of machines taking over the world, Terminator, and all that. Two, it sounds like something only super-smart people can understand (that is actually quite accurate).

For the purpose of this definition, though, artificial intelligence simply means that the program is capable of human-level intelligence and potentially learning over time to deliver a better experience.

Nothing to be scared of!

 

What is the difference between chatbots and virtual assistants?

Some people like to refer to chatbots as 'virtual assistants'. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with calling a chatbot a virtual assistant. However, we don't for a few reasons.

1. When talking about virtual assistants, or VAs, many actually mean humans. You can hire VAs on marketplaces for an hourly rate to achieve tasks for you. Those are a virtual workforce of humans, working from home or wherever in the world. Point is, they are humans and therefore not chatbots!

2. Though some are, not all chatbots are 'assistants'. In HR, for instance, you can find good chatbot assistant use cases (see here for my take on this specific topic). However, most chatbots are not assistants per se, so we stay away from this term.

3. Finally, there are already enough words for what we do! We settled on 'chatbot' a bit reluctantly. We always prefer conversational software, much more elegant. However, the industry is now known as the chatbot industry and therefore we've decided to call them that way too. 

So, let's avoid confusions and keep it to chatbots!

 

Conclusion and resources

Let's wrap this up.

You have learned that a chatbot is a computer program you can talk to. When you talk to the chatbot, the chatbot replies to you. When you talk to the chatbot using text, it will usually reply using text. The chatbot has the capacity to mimic human behaviour in how it is understanding and responding to you.

Great! Want to learn some more stuff? Have a read of these resources.

What does it take to create a chatbot that learns?

The history of chatbots.

Why humans are still super important when building chatbots (machines are not taking over... yet).

I hope this article helped shed some light on the topic!