© nextMedia Hamburg Robert Weber

Chatbots - when people and machines talk to each other

Buying theatre tickets and flights. Robert Weber, knowhere-media, highlights sectors where bots can be put to good use

Do robots really make life easier? Will they disrupt the media and digital sector? Robert Weber, Head of Innovation at knowhere PLC and organiser of Hamburg Chat Bots Meetups, on October 11, 2016 will discuss these and other issues at the next.Media.Lecture. The Berlin-based expert Martin Hoffmann will also give input on chatbots at the event by the nextMedia.Hamburg initiative. Weber discusses chatbots with Hamburg News in an interview.

Hamburg News: There are already many existing chat opportunities. Why are chatbots in such demand now?

Robert Weber: Yes, chat opportunities have been in existence for a long time and chatbots have been around for a while. But the programmes for chatting every day had not been integrated. The spread of smartphones has established apps for chatting. Since mid 2015, users have been spending most of their time on smartphones using chat apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram. When Facebook opened its Messenger in April 2016 for applications like chatbots, that meant access to an app used by 900,000 people. Meanwhile, chatbots are among the top nine or ten messengers used worldwide.

Apart from the reach offered by such apps, artificial intelligence technologies are also far along. The range, new achievements and potentials of artificial intelligence are winding up demand for chatbots. They offer possibilities for new business models and optimising internal and external communication.

Hamburg News: How should a chatbot be imagined? How does it work?

Robert Weber: Chatbots are computer programmes that can be contacted via modern messengers. The chatbot tries to decipher the user’s message and answer correctly. The chatbot usually offers a special service like booking a ticket, weather forecasts and information about a nearby event. So chatbots are used for internal, corporate communication and for external communication in customer services. Chatbots can be found in the instant messengers of target groups such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Slack. They all use the same interface and chatbots can be integrated in their messengers.

Hamburg News: Which branches are particularly suitable for chatbots?

Robert Weber: Branches that require lots of online customer interaction. Offering customer services 24/7 is costly. Chatbots can pre-classify or deal with lots of enquiries automatically and without human aid. Chatbots can also deal with the sale of products like tickets and not only services. The next generations will use messengers more than apps. As the target group will remain the same, the use of a chatbot instead of an app should be considered as you reach customers via apps that they already know and operate.

Hamburg News: CNN, for instance, has a chatbot that works via Facebook’s messenger. Do media brands fade into the background by using a third party like Facebook in between?

Robert Weber: No, media brands gain visibility by inserting a third party. We spend 80 per cent of our time on smartphones using apps like Facebook and Google. The readership is reached directly on channels that they already use. The same applies to social networks. Brands have to go where their target group is most active – meaning instant messengers.

Hamburg News: Martin Hoffmann, the developer of ResiApp, will also talk at the nextMedia.Lecture. That app provides news in a conversation. But it’s still an app. Will big German media companies follow suit and offer their own apps or use bots in messengers?

Robert Weber: Chatbots are practical because they just have to do a few simple adjustments and can then operate in other apps and messengers. The technology is the same in both cases and easily transferred. It makes sense to integrate a chatbot in both a messenger and an app that already provides news. The chatbot is connected to the existing app and improves the user’s experience.

The nextMedia.Lecture with Robert Weber and Martin Hoffmann on “Chatbots – Wenn Menschen mit Maschinen sprechen” (Chatbots – when people and machines talk to each other) will be held at 6 pm October 11, 2016 in the Macromedia Hochschule Hamburg.

The interview with Robert Weber was done by nextMedia Hamburg for Hamburg News.

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