A chatbot works best when it seems to act as a human assistant, a “person” who understands what you want and delivers a sound answer. Recently, I tested out the And Chill chatbot, which runs within Facebook Messenger, to see if was up to a serious challenge: helping me find lesser-known sci-fi movies.
The bot helps you find any movie. Yet, as a die-hard sci-fi movie buff, I was a bit incredulous. I already knew about older films from the Kubrick canon and indie gems no one has ever heard about. Few people have ever watched the movies Primer or I, Origins, judging from the blank stares people give me when I talk about the finer plot points at tech conferences.
Recently, the developers behind And Chill figured out how to make the bot work faster. When I first tested it, there was a long delay. When you want to watch a movie, the last thing you want in a bot is long processing times — you want to watch now, not in an hour.
Fortunately, the results from my first test were worth the wait. And Chill recommended the movie Uncanny, which is a sci-fi indie similar to Primer, and worth watching.
Just today, I decided to test the bot again, now that it works much faster. You have to name a movie and say what you liked about it, so I mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the bot almost immediately suggested Prometheus. That’s an easy one, so I went farther back in the archive. I asked about Rear Windows, and the bot suggested the movie Kill Your Darlings, which is a new one for me. Turns out it is in the same vein as Hitchcock’s famous film. I was impressed so far.
Jake Cohn, whose name makes him sound like the villain in a Brad Pitt movie, is the founder and CEO of And Chill. He told me that 75 percent of users report being pleased with the movie recommendations, and he said that the bot gets better over time. The bot will also make movie recommendations based on previous searches and inform me about movie news related to the genres I like. It’s also handy that And Chill provides a link to the movie trailer so I can check it out.
That said, not all of the movies the bot recommends are on Netflix (the And Chill part of the bot name is a coy reference, maybe you know what it means), which is a good thing if you want to use other services — like Amazon or Vudu — to watch a movie but not as helpful if you are a Netflix subscriber looking for a free movie on your plan, something that many people can relate to.
The saving grace? I went back to And Chill a few times, searching for recommendations. When I asked again about a movie like Primer, with a sci-fi twist, it suggested Coherence, an incredibly weird movie about multiple universes. It’s awesome. The way that chatbots will prove their usefulness is not when we use them to get the weather once or twice and then quit, but when they become the primary conduit to finding the answers we want and when they save us time.
And Chill has that “trusted friend” angle down pat. You trust the results will be worth your time. It becomes the best way to find movies. I can see how the bot could improve over time, making better recommendations based on your previous questions or letting you search for actors and even filming locations you like. Hopefully, the features will be expanded soon.