The Chatbots Are Coming: How Facebook’s New Bots Will Impact the Public Sector

At Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference, Facebook gave the world a glimpse of the future of communication and user experience.

by / April 13, 2016
Facebook F8 Livestream

This year at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg offered a glimpse into the future by laying out the company’s 10-year technology road map. Over the next 10 years, Facebook is placing great emphasis on virtual reality (VR), live video application programming interfaces (APIs), artificial intelligence (AI) and the most intriguing of the group — chatbots.

Image Source: Facebook F8 Livestream

Chatbots are computer programs that can hold text- or voice-based conversations, query information and even complete transactions. Though chatbots aren't technically a new technology, the rise of AI development and cognitive computing makes them far more useful than their predecessors.

Facebook’s use of chatbots will be facilitated exclusively through messages sent through its Messenger application, enabling individuals and organizations to have an automated, intelligent assistants. Chatbots can function autonomously through pre-established workflows, and can query human support to learn new use cases or handle complex situations on which they haven't yet been trained. Facebook has its own chatbots in testing, but the company also announced an API, dubbed the Send/Receive API, that allows individuals to build their own chatbots. Welcome to the beginning of the next App Store — only this time it’s for bots with specific functionalities and specialties.

As chatbot usage grows, we will begin to see both personal and enterprise applications of the technology.

Chatbots Get Personal

At first glance, personal chatbots may seem like Siri or Cortana, but they'll be capable of completing more advanced functions such as ordering products, making recommendations and coordinating meetings. Facebook has been testing M, a personal assistant chatbot (with some human support), that is the equivalent of having a secretary on call 24 hours a day.

Facebook+ChatBots Image Source: Facebook F8 Livestream

Chatbots for the Enterprise

With enterprise chatbots, businesses and governments will have an always-on representative available to answer questions, provide support and take payments. Upon their launch, enterprise chatbots will communicate solely via instant messages (IMs), but as the technology matures, they will gradually expand to more intelligence voice-based interfaces.

4 Ways Chatbots Will Affect Government

  1. Government-as-an-Experience: Personal chatbots will usher in a new way for citizens to experience government without visiting a physical government building or website. In the future, if you want to find out your options for paying your speeding ticket, you’ll talk to your chatbot, which will help you contact the court to make arrangements.
  2. Optimized Customer Service: Government chatbots will help optimize efficiency for internal customer service and information routing tasks. Enterprise chatbots will help route calls, 311 tickets and other tasks to correct government workers at the optimal time to boost productivity and take efficiency to new levels.
  3. Civic Engagement: Instead of going to a council meeting or sifting through the newspaper, chatbots will help citizens to engage with their government agencies in new, more convenient ways. Chatbots will enable citizens to stay up to date on new ordinances, share feedback, ask questions and receive immediate answers.
  4. Collective Intelligence: Government agencies with open data will use chatbots to provide a more natural way for citizens to interact with that data. Citizens can ask these chatbots questions such as, “How does my city’s spending compare with cities of similar size?” And they will receive near-instantaneous answers.

Facebook’s chatbot announcement comes on the heels of Microsoft’s own Bot Framework, which was announced at Build, the company's developer conference, at the end of March. Along with Microsoft, other technology companies, such as Amazon, have begun to invest heavily in chatbot and AI infrastructure, and supporting ecosystems.

And as the artificial intelligence race continues to heat up, chatbots are well on their way to becoming the next medium we use to interact with the world and data around us.

To watch the full F8 Keynote click here.

Dustin Haisler Chief Innovation Officer, e.Republic Inc.

Dustin Haisler is the Chief Innovation Officer of Government Technology's parent company e.Republic. Previously the finance director and later CIO for Manor, Texas, a small city outside Austin, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. As Chief Innovation Officer, Haisler has a strategic role to help shape the company’s products, services and future direction. Primarily, he leads e.Republic Labs, a market connector created as an ecosystem to educate, accelerate and ultimately scale technology innovation within the public sector. Read his full bio.

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