The strange world of Skype Bots

“Fancy a pint?” my colleague Frank exclaimed and, indeed, it was that time of the day – of the week for that matter! 5pm on a Friday and the normal buzz of the office was lulled to a gentle hum from the few PCs still switched on, punctuated occasionally by an exasperated gurgle from the over-heated coffee maker in the corner. “Why not!” I exclaimed and motioned for another colleague, Peter, to join us. “I’ll join you in a while” he replied, returning to his screen. “What’s this?” Frank chortled “never known you to turn down the chance for a happy-hour special Pete”. “If you must know I’m having a conversation with Spock” Peter said matter-of-factly, as if chatting with a Vulcan was the most natural thing in the world. “Aaalllllllright!” I ventured with feigned concern “giving you lessons in mind-melding, is he?”

“He’s attempting humour and needs my opinion” Pete responded brusquely, clearly annoyed by the distraction. I moved to look at his screen. It was there:

Spock: Why did the ground-dwelling avian cross the roadway?
PeterB: Why?
Spock: There is insufficient data to know for certain.

Are you serious? Well, actually I am! The growth and popularity of bots on Skype has surprised everyone, not least the developers themselves. From Mica, the Hipster Cat Bot to the recent Doctor Strange addition and, of course, not forgetting good old Spock, the possibilities are extensive and continually growing.
And it’s far more than just a gimmick! Skype bots can serve as very useful tools in terms of planning and communication. The ‘Zoom’ bot, for example, is a personalised virtual assistant that can schedule meetings, introduce you to new connections and help organise your travel. Likewise, the ‘Foursquare’ bot can tell you where to go for the best food, nightlife and attractions – just enter what and where you want to search for and away you go! Powered by Microsoft’s Bing, the ‘Summarize’ bot will scan any website you ask it to and bring you just the highlights; pretty impressive and especially useful when you have a stack of research to plough through.

I could go on and on because, well, there’s just so many bots out there but my point is this; Skype has latched onto the fact that, as we evolve more and more into a “say it in one sentence or less” species, we need tools that deliver our facts and our fun to us in instant snippets. Some say that bots will eventually replace many of the apps we use. I daresay that’s true to some extent, in that they bring a return to a more human like conversation style of exchanging information, but I remain sceptical as to whether they will make our app stores redundant any time soon.

And so, as I don my favourite autumn tweed jacket, position my fedora for maximum impact and head for the door with Frank, I turn to look back at Peter with a sigh. “Sure you don’t want to come along with us Pete?” I ask hopefully (he usually buys in the first round) but he shakes his head and returns to Spock for more Vulcan gems of wisdom. It’s Friday night and my friend is still fixated on his screen talking to a stream of code that he clearly finds more amusing than either myself or Frank? Come on now, Spock or no Spock that just ‘aint logical!

Until next time

Why are there Christmas trees up in my street already? Okay, it’s a rhetorical question as I’m aware that, for a growing number of the population, Christmas now officially starts immediately after the summer holidays. Be that as it may, I’m old school in that I stick rigidly to the ‘Twelve days of Christmas’ principle and always will. I must confess that seeing all those twinkling lights before December even begins awakens my inner scrooge and sends me reeling in the direction of the nearest wine rack. There must be someone out there who agrees with me – hang on while I find a bot to talk to…

So, this is where a distinctly unfestive Dr G signs off.

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