Are Chatbots Coming To Kill Apps and Google Search?

Chatbots will kill 99% of apps.

Chatbots will kill Google Search.

Anyone got any other grand claims to make about chatbots? Will they kill off Youtube, the Kardashians, or Western Civilisation?

For those new to chatbots, they’re nothing complicated, just think of them as automated messages on messaging apps. A human sends a message and a robot answers back. Simple.

So if they’re nothing complicated, what makes chatbots so hot right now?

What makes chatbots so powerful is the combination of their reach and Artificial Intelligence. While the AI’s been around in some form for decades, the reach has only been created in the last few years. Today 3 billion people use the top messaging apps, unheard of in 2011, and they even love those apps enough to use them to send money, personal information, and communicate with brands they use. Your customers are almost certainly using a messaging app every day, and chatbots can now help you reach them there.

And of course, while automated messaging sounds simple, the technology behind them can range from simple to incredibly Einstein-ly complicated. On the simple side, most chatbots on messaging apps are using what is considered “Weak” AI  — an artificial intelligence focused on solving one narrow task using a specific software language. Chatbots like these are those which might tell you the weather forecast, or send you breaking news, or book your train journey.

Which is all very well, excellent tools for companies to start making now, but hardly technology to revolutionise humanity. Where chatbots get really exciting is their ability to become an artificial intelligence, i.e. a really really clever robot.

And this has come about because we are at a unique juncture where we have the technology to build really complex AI, and we finally have billions of people willing to put the time and effort into talking to the robots to teach them to talk, thanks to their infatuation with their phones. We are now creating “Strong AI”.

“Strong” AI is The Google Search Killer. It has sapience, “wisdom”, logical reasoning and real time learning. It doesn’t just know how to do something, it learns. More and more, an AI is able to learn and react to new inputs, just like Ray Kurzweil described in his book The Singularity Is Near.

In theory there’s no limitation to how clever a chatbot can be. One day, given the right amount of data to teach it, information-based technologies will be superior to all human knowledge and proficiency, including pattern-recognition powers, problem-solving skills, and even the emotional and moral intelligence of the human brain itself.

Yes, moral intelligence. We will no longer have to ask our priests for absolution or our judges for their verdicts, a robot will do it for them.

As fearsome as it sounds, no one’s quite developed The God Chatbot yet. We’re at toddler stage, you could probably still train a parrot to replace most of the current Weak AI chatbots.

Yes but where did you get the Google Search Killer Bit From?

What is at stake here is the “search” behaviour that Google Search Engine has almost total domination over. If you’re searching for something on the web, you’re almost certainly using Google’s Engine. But search has changed; today people ask their friends and trust them to recommend or just share a piece of information; today more and more people are using mobile phones to look for information or fill their needs with an app, leaving the search engine to one side, unused and un-revenue-generating.

Mainstream chatbots have become a shortcut between consumers, clients and users - and the information they’re looking for, with the full permission of everyone involved. In the next couple of years most companies will certainly have their own chatbot to interact with their current and potential clients. They’ll reduce sales and support costs, but also increase the speed at which consumers can make their choice.

The choice aspect is important because the huge power of Google has been its ability to show you 123,456,789 search results in 0.002 seconds on a web browser on desktop or mobile. But today’s search behaviour means that nobody barely looks past the third search result, let alone tries the second page of results. All of a sudden we don’t want Google’s power to give us choice, we want to skip the choice bit. We don’t want millions of results, we want one result. But The Right Result.

So how to deliver this Right Result. Well, Google does not have one dominant messaging app, it has nothing to rival Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp in that regard, but Google does have an alternative of course. It uses Google Assistant to give you just the one right answer - and it’s got two decades of your search history to work with.

So Google Search IS going to survive?

In 2016 everyone was getting excited and trotting blogs out to predict the death of Google Search, but nowadays we’re settling just for “The Death of The Google Search Page”. Soon, writing out a sentence into google.com, web browser or Google Assistant and looking at a list of ten links to choose which one you want, will seem like the same quaint behaviour as re-winding a VHS.

And that change in and of itself is still a significant challenge for Google. The company makes its trillions from indexing websites and giving the links to websites to the right people at the right time, - and then plastering lucrative ads everywhere. What is Google going to do about advertising in a conversation on a mobile phone with a chatbot? Keep interrupting your chatbot conversation with ads?

Google haven’t announced their solution yet, they’re still doing some experiments including one promotion for Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, but one general direction seems to be towards promoting products for sale. For example, if you ask your chatbot “how do I cut my lawn in a heatwave”, Assistant can give you the right tips, and then also recommend fertiliser, lawn mowers or local gardeners. It’s a very different advertising relationship to Search Ads and no one knows if it’s the cashcow that Search Ads are.

So chatbots aren’t going to kill off Google’s ability to mine your data and develop AI to rival God, but their effect on advertising revenues remains very much in the air…