Bringing bots into our everyday lives

Serial entrepreneur Brian Hecht joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how many companies are working to find new ways to bring bots into our everyday lives.


Bots have contributed to everything from chat rooms to Apple's Siri.

Today companies as prominent as Facebook and as small as your neighbor's start-up are working to find new ways to bring bots into our everyday lives.

Brian Hecht, our resident serial entrepreneur and advisor to many digital teams, including our own, joins us to discuss this global trend.

First off, what's a bot?

A bot is any technology that allows a human being to interact with a machine using artificial intelligence, sometimes using natural language but now also increasingly using text, whether it's in a messenger app or in a text message.

So, for example, sometimes if I'm trying to get tech support on a product or a page, it might not be a human, it might be an artificial-intelligent being?

It could be.

You can usually tell.

I mean, the way that people right now think of bots or artificial intelligence is in Siri or in Amazon's Echo.

And we know that that's a little bit glitchy.

I mean, you'll ask Siri, 'What's the score for the Mets game?'

and you'll get the weather in Mexico, which is a problem.

But that technology is getting better, and there's also an infrastructure that's growing that enabled sort of more efficient ways, like chatting in a CRM, in a customer-service kind of way, that's making it much more usable and much more, you know, efficient.

Everyday life examples of how bots in the next three or four years might be interacting with us?

Yeah. Well, there are examples right now.

I mean, the real breakthrough came earlier this year when Facebook announced that it would support bots in its Facebook Messenger, which I think a lot of us use, and it opened it up to developers to say, 'Go ahead and make apps or technology that will work within Facebook Messenger,' and almost immediately, more than 10,000 companies began developing bot technology for Facebook Messenger.


'Cause Facebook has an interest in you staying inside their ecosystem, right?

That's right.

The more questions you get answered, the longer the relationship you have.

As long as it's inside their garden, they're happy.

That's exactly right.

So, there's a few ways that you could use it actually right now.

Taco Bell just announced a new program -- it's still in beta -- but where you can actually order tacos for your office for lunch.

Without any humans involved in that chain?

You never have to speak to a human, and it's more interesting and fun than doing one of the online ordering systems because it'll offer you discounts and it can really be interactive with you.

Another example is, if you're a video gamer, Activision has a franchise, 'Call of Duty.'

In the advance of a new release, they decided to create hype by having a bot on Facebook that directed you, in the voice of a character from the video game, to solve different puzzles, and if you did the puzzles, you unlocked an exclusive trailer that, for you, is very exciting.

So, why are investors looking into this space?

I mean, is it because this is part of that giant automation trend, meaning reduced labor costs and higher profits?

Some of it is that, but I think a lot it has to do with the user experience.

I think we're detecting that there's a little bit of app fatigue.

If you look at the app download, it sort of plateaued in terms of general-usage apps.

If you think about your own phone, you kind of downloaded all the apps that you need, and you might download one for a novelty.

So, what do you do next?

You make them better and you change the user interface so instead of tapping on things, you're either talking to things or typing to things, and that's a behavior that's sort of more organic to the way we communicate with each other.

So, they're looking for ways to tap in to more value in apps and services that we're already using, and that's kind of a common investment hypothesis.

And there are some venture-capital firms that are now focusing exclusively on bot technology, and that's very often sort of an early signifier that that's where the money's gonna be flowing.

So, do companies build their own bots, or are they now essentially the equivalent of what used to be app-development firms and houses that are now botmaking factories?

All of the above, yes.

Some companies are developing their own, if they have very robust internal engineering, but an example is a company called Shopify that just acquired a smaller bot company called Kit CRM.

Shopify is a company that lets you run your own stores online, and they use the kit technology so that if you run a store, you'll get a text message in the morning that gives you your sales report, and you can write back and say, 'Give me a more detailed report' or 'Send a thank-you note to all of my customers.'

But that's a good example of where the innovation is coming from the start-up and then it's getting acquired and incorporated into bigger companies.

All right, Brian Hecht.

Thanks for joining us.

My pleasure.