Bots are not something new. They’re almost as old as the internet. Of course, they evolved in different shapes and forms.
Let’s first start with the definition:
a Bot is a piece of software, an application, that performs an automated task or a set of tasks. And, at the beginning, they were doing this by running a script, nothing more than a set of commands, in an automated way.
For this reason, ever since inception, it has been recognized that Bots provide an obvious value, especially in performing repetitive tasks much faster than a human.
Does that sound familiar? We’ve heard the same story about the computer. If you look back at Britannica, a computer is defined as an:
“apparatus that performs routine calculations automatically”.
But let’s take a step back in time.
Ok, so the internet really took shape in the 1970s. But it only caught the attention of the general public in the early 1990s.
So, when I said earlier that Bots are almost as old as the internet, I wasn’t quite lying.
Some of the first appearances of Bots can be traced back to 1988. Yes, that is correct. And their preferred home at the time, a network called IRC (Internet Relay Chat). For those with a little more gray hair, or no hair left, this will be familiar. We used to spend entire nights exchanging information and files of all types. Various servers were powering specific networks, with multiple channels, some more friendly than others. Funny enough, IRC is still around.
Those early IRC Bots provided automation in a channel, by responding to specific commands, and possibly returning automated messages or files. Other were simply used to maintain a channel active when no users were connected.
As they started to show the value, they started to escape the confinements of IRC. Some of the first incarnations of Bots outside of IRC channels are in fact web crawlers.
First such bot was WebCrawler, created in 1994. It swapped hands between AOL at the time, then Excite, etc.
Piece of internet trivia: The most famous web crawler was created in 1996, and was called BackRub. It later was renamed to Googlebot. See more details HERE.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
As the Bot became recognized for it’s power and usefulness, it started to catch the attention of various malicious groups. Just like everything on the internet, it tends to take a life of it’s own, based on who adopts it.
Besides the obvious good use cases, Bots started to get adopted and used for malicious use cases.
Around 1999 and 2000, several incarnations of malicious bots and botnets caught the attention of the unprepared at the time. Starting of course through IRC, but then expanding in the wild. 2007 for example brought us one of the largest botnets at the time, called Storm. With an estimated reach of about 50 million computers infected, and various programmed uses, it showed that Bots can really scale.
Some of the use cases include actions like sending large numbers of spam emails, identity theft, malware bots, DDoS attack bots and botnets, bots for increasing traffic and revenue of advertising, cheating game bots, etc.
But it wasn’t all bad.
Fast forward to today
What we know and use today on the internet was shaped in great part through Bots. Starting with the web crawlers that put information at the fingertips of users, looking at the old IRC chat bots that evolved into an indispensable tool for many other chat room type applications as well as web sites, as well as many other automation examples that have an interaction point with humans, the use cases and technology has evolved to leverage Bots at scale.
Some statistics show that out of today’s web traffic, about half is Bot traffic. And this will grow exponentially with technologies like AI and AIoT, and the ability to implement conversational scenarios through natural language processing.
What does this mean for organizations?
As Organizations strive to evolve, part of their Digital Transformation strategy has to look, amongst other things, at the use of Bots. Also known as Enterprise Chatbots, they can serve various use cases, including handling of customer functions like order status, cancellations, returns and RMAs, account balance and payment processing, or the use of personal digital assistants, automations of support and reducing the load on customer support teams, and many other scenarios.
Integrated with various automation processes, including RPA, Enterprise Bots can not only increase customer satisfaction, but greatly reduce expenses, reduce load, etc.
Furthermore, the technological evolution over the last several years has brought us the democratization of Bots and Bot creation. A multitude of platform now allow non-developers to start creating basic bots for various scenarios.
To somewhat differentiate them from the old negative connotation associated with the Bot nomenclature, but also to closely describe a specific category of services offered by Bots nowadays, we find them under the name of Virtual Agents. Organizations have offerings of great value, like:
ServiceNow – Virtual Agent
Microsoft – Power Virtual Agents
Google Cloud – Dialogflow
Amazon – Lex
And these are only some of the larger offerings. There is a whole slew of specific point solutions available from smaller vendors.
The differentiating factor now becomes ease of use and creation, ease of integration into various applications, leveraging AI, the capability to resolve real use case scenarios in the most efficient manner, the capability to monitor their evolution and performance, as well as the risks associated and the ability to manage these risk. As AI is getting more embedded, ethics is a new topic on the table as well.
And some of the most common scenarios for Enterprise Virtual Agents include:
- Support Bots
- Informational Bots
- Application Bots
- Enterprise Productivity Bots
We’ve come a long way in our relationship with Bots. As they become prevalent, it is imperative to have the bot discussion as part of any business and digital transformation conversation.
Are you adopting Bots? Want to talk about Bots? Don’t hesitate to reach out.