What is a Chatbot?

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If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, reading blogs or the occasional legal industry related tweets on twitter, you’ve heard the deafening cries and dizzying excitement about artificial intelligence, machine learning and chatbots.

But, what are chatbots?

Definition

chat·bot
/ˈCHatbät/
noun
a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

Origin

You see, it all started with Alan Turing, the original computer scientist on which the movie The Imitation Game was based. Turing developed his test in 1950 for intelligence in a computer.

The idea is if a human is unable to distinguish machine from another human being through engaging it in a dialog of questions and and replies, then the computer could be deemed to be “intelligent.” Turing predicted by the year 2000, a computer would pass the test on five-minute keyboard conversations 30% of the time.

That all changed 6 years ago when in 2011, at the Techniche festival in Guwahati, India, an application called Cleverbot took part in a Turing-type test and was perceived to be human by 59.3% of its testers (compared with a score of 63.3% human for the average human participant).

You can play around with Cleverbot here.

Popularity

There are a few reasons why chatbots are now all the rage.

First, technology to create a chatbot has become simple enough and cheap enough that they’re not just for hard core computer coders anymore. In fact, here’s a link to a video of a 7 year old boy creating a conversational chatbot.

Second, tech industry giants, such as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others have jumped into the game, bringing their massive audiences of users with them. In April 2016, Facebook launched its platform to make chatbots available to its 1 billion users on Messenger. By November, 34,000 chatbots had sprung into existence on Facebook Messenger.

Third, people live on their smartphones and communicate primarily by messaging. Messaging apps have now surpassed social networks in terms of monthly actives user numbers. The numbers of users (as of January 2017) on messaging platform are mind-boggling:

  • Facebook Messenger: 1 billion people
  • WhatsApp: 1 billion people
  • WeChat: 846 million people
  • Skype: 300 million people
  • Snapchat: 300 million people
  • Viber: 249 million people

(Source: Statista)

Opportunity

Imagine the possibilities. A chatbot can engage a user in a conversation about most any topic. How about a chatbot that helps tenants understand their rights? Or how about a chatbot that can help you fill out a divorce petition by answering a few simple questions? Maybe you can use a chatbot to interview your clients for basic information so you don’t have to?

I encourage you to create a chatbot yourself and play around with it. A great (and free) chatbot creation tool is Chatfuel, a simple as pie platform for creating Facebook Messenger bots.

Here are some legal chatbots that are already challenging what we think possible:

DoNotPay – Perhaps the most prolific robot lawyer, created by Stanford freshman Joshua Browder, has taken on 250,000 traffic ticket cases—winning 160,000 of them and saving drivers $4 million in fines since 2014. The service is free and also assists the homeless with claims to public housing.

LawBot – “The world’s most advanced legal chatbot” launched by Cambridge University Law students Ludwig Bull, Rebecca Agliolo, Nadia Abdul, and Jozo Maruscak, LawBot asks users questions in order to figure out whether a crime was committed. This free service can currently address 26 different offences and just expanded into divorce.

Robot Lawyer Lisa –  “The world’s first impartial / unbiased lawyer” founded by The Naked Lawyer author and UK lawyer Chrissie Lightfoot, Lisa is a free app aimed at helping entrepreneurs draw up non-disclosure agreements.

LawDroid – Created by California lawyer Tom Martin, LawDroid is a chatbot, built on Facebook Messenger, can help entrepreneurs incorporate their business in for free, no lawyer required.

Chatbots can be simple (rules based AI) or more complex (natural language processing and machine learning) and they’re only getting smarter!

About Tom Martin

@lawdroid Tom is a legal bot advocate, author and speaker. He is a lawyer and founder of LawDroid (a bot development and consulting company for the legal industry).Tom is also co-founder of Vancouver Legal Hackers, advisor to ATJ Tech Fellow Program, member of ARAG Technology Innovation Committee, and Chair of Education for Group Legal Services Association.Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Tom now lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife and two daughters.

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