Remember the time when your more tech-savvy friend had the same answer to all of your modern-day woes?
There's an app for that!
Well, these days things have been taken one step further – in the form of bots.
What's this all a-bot?
Recode defines bots like this: "A bot is software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own, like making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar or fetching and displaying information. The increasingly common form of bots, chatbots, simulate conversation. They often live inside messaging apps – or are at least designed to look that way – and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human."
The most popular platform on which to witness the rise of the bots is Facebook. Get out your phone, open up your Facebook Messenger app, and have a go at interacting with these nine chatbots:
Got travel plans? Want to avoid the schlep of going to speak to an actual travel agent? Hate trawling through website after website of flight deals?
The Kayak bot meets you neatly in the middle. You can ask for precisely the travel info you need and it'll generate the info for you right inside Messenger.
Vanity Fair described this bot as "like being pals with the weather guy". Ask about current conditions and a weather forecast using natural language (try, "Will I need an umbrella today?"). For some extra fun, try its very tongue-in-cheek horoscopes.
Memes are all the rage and have become a vital element in online communication.
You can chat to this bot and let it know what meme image you want to use, and customise the accompanying text. It follows a very set format, but if you are happy to work within that, and need a meme in a hurry, this is a good place to start. Check the resulting meme below!
HealthTap gives users the chance to ask about health issues anonymously. Some people may feel more comfortable raising issues with a bot, rather than with an actual human, so chat with HealthTap and ask it a health-related question. It will respond with helpful answers that have been crowd-sourced from real doctors.
This is by no means a substitute for the real thing – please don't try it for medical emergencies!
You could passively check the social media feeds, but try interacting with The Guardian's news bot on Messenger instead. Get headlines or specific news categories, and see the most popular stories of the day.
The developers of this game clearly believe that when life gives you lemons, you create a chatbot called Lemonade Stand.
This is a text-based challenge based on an old game found on Apple computers in the 1970s.
The premise is simple: make lemonade, decide how much you want to sell it for, and see how much money you make each day. The variables involved are what make the game fun to play – and like most modern messaging behaviour, you can ignore the conversation for days on end and pick it up again later.
Put your extensive-but-mostly-useless trivia knowledge to the test! This bot will fire random questions at you, or you can specify your area of expertise. Share your score on Facebook if you need to challenge a real human being to play along with you. Or, you know, keep your dismal scoring between yourself and the bot.
The name stands for
what the ... erm ... flipping-hell is that?, and it works like this: take a photo of something and send it to the bot, and it will try and figure out what's in the picture.
There may be something to be said for the accuracy of the bot – on two attempts, it got both images wrong, one time describing a fluffy penguin plush toy as "a dog sitting in front of a mirror". But, hey, at least its guesses are highly amusing, and the more times it tries, the better it gets.
One local business that is giving this technology a try is Lancewood Cheese. Send it a food emoji on Messenger and its bot will respond with a recipe that incorporates that food.
Although the bot sometimes confuses the emojis – sending a corn on the cob was greeted with a recipe for baby marrows – it is nonetheless fun to check out what the suggestions are.
Watch this space as we at Flow explore the world of chatbots further, and find creative ways to integrate them into our digital offering!