“Hey Siri! Why did Apple make you?”

Even if you haven’t tried it, everyone knows about Siri, Apple’s speech interpretation and recognition personal assistant. The bot is available at the touch of a button or voice activation to answer questions about tomorrow’s weather or recommend a nearby coffee shop, all with its signature sassy style.

Siri was just an apple in Alan Turing’s eye when he developed a test in the 1950s to see if machines could think. This was a highly influential first step in the development of artificial intelligence, but when Apple wowed an auditorium of cheering spectators five years ago at its launch, Siri was one of the first technologies to set expectations for technologists and consumers about what they could actually do with these capabilities.

Because of Siri and other computer assistants, consumers finally have their own notions of what A.I.-enabled technologies should be able to do. We now demand an intelligent, simple user experience with information, entertainment, and communication, all at hand and in one application. And, as a result of this demand, chatbot technology is beginning to take off as a mass market service. Developments in natural language processing, improvements in artificial intelligence, the adoption of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and the general shift toward messaging are making chatbot technology more sophisticated by the day.

It’s not incredibly surprising that tech powerhouses like Amazon, with its voice-activated software Alexa, and Google, with its Allo messaging app, are already putting their eggs in the bot basket. Given these companies’ reputation for disrupting industries with technology innovation, operators should be asking if this is an opportunity they can seize.

Where do mobile operators fit in?

Mobile operators have a unique authority to position themselves at an important junction between subscriber and bot technology interactions, with messaging gateways that provide chatbot functionality via SMS or Rich Communication Services (RCS). Operators also have several key advantages that only they can provide, such as network reliability, global interoperability, service ubiquity and, perhaps most importantly, subscriber trust enabled by security and privacy management. Ensuring a secure network will be especially important as chatbots move into the enterprise applications space. In organizations operating in the financial or healthcare sectors, there are also complex legal requirements for protecting information stored on and exchanged via applications.

In addition, exposing core network functionality using the telecom APIs provides a strategic advantage for the operator by enabling them to assume the role of a Data-as-a-Service provider to third parties or the Over-the-Top (OTT) providers themselves, thus opening an important secondary revenue stream. The operator continues to provide services to end-users, who may be direct consumers or enterprise customers creating business-to-business services.

This concept is the critical technological driver behind the highly anticipated bot stores that work like app stores. Because the telecom APIs are easy to integrate and implement, and operators have established security protocols, chatbots are a low-risk avenue for operators to trial, potentially enabling a high return on investment — an attractive proposition for many operators, who have seen demands for voice data decline and watched the increased use of OTT apps by subscribers.

Future of the bot

Even with operators promising opportunities to become a big player in chatbot adoption, the road ahead is not without its stones. As VentureBeat’s Chris O’Brien recently explored in his article on the topic, there’s a lot to be done before operators can take advantage of the revolution. If operators are paying attention, they should know that chatbots have quickly become serious business for all types of companies and developers. And, if they’re smart, they’re already looking for ways to get involved in its development and standardization.

As mobile communications strategies continue to shift at a rapid pace and operators struggle to define their role, now seems like the perfect time to get into the chatbot game.

After all, chatbots are already getting to know their customers…

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