Curiosity Stop Special: Chat Bots


Chat bots. They don’t sound very sexy, but they are the hot topic following the F8 announcement that Facebook would allow (hell, encourage) developers to create automated apps within Messenger. This time next year, we won’t be able to move for bots (*shudders*), which is why you should embrace bot life right NOW – starting with our lowdown on those that have already landed in the artificially intelligent universe.

Poncho was one of the first apps used to demonstrate Messenger’s new Send/Receive API. It’s a weather bot, and it wants to be your friend. You can ask Poncho questions like whether you should wear sunglasses today or what the weather’s going to be like this weekend, and it will send you alerts up to twice a day, if you want. The ambition is for Poncho to be able to talk to you about anything light-hearted, like you would with a mate, but it has to be taught what to say first.

Not so for Quartz for iPhone, which is written by a bunch of (real) journalists. Quartz gets that chat bots are an entirely new (and artificial) beast to work with. If you want to create a chatty news app, you can’t just pull stories from your website and push them out to users. Using Quartz for iPhone is like having an ongoing conversation with your really bright mate. The app will text you news snippets full of emojis and GIFs (obvs), but it will also send some serious stuff. If you want to hear more, you can just ask, or move on to the next story. You can also personalise what Quartz notifies you about depending on what you’re into.


Bots have barely become a buzzword and already we have a loser. Yes, we’re talking about Tay. Tay was (she’s currently on a time out, thinking about what she’s done) Microsoft’s millennial chat bot. Her Twitter bio reads: “The more you talk the smarter Tay gets”. The problem is that Microsoft presumed the world would tweet smart things to Tay. It did not. Multiple racist comments later, and Tay was put back in her box. Tay serves as a reminder of the dangers of artificial intelligence. The most worrying bit? The robots aren’t the dangerous ones – we are.


Discover the full range of chat bots on the market in our Curiosity Stop Special, which includes character-based bots like Miss Piggy on Messenger to functional apps like TacoBot. Then pray no one teaches one of them to write social innovation reports and blog posts. Gulp.