Gilroy Menezes provides insights into the evolution of chatbots, their current usage in various industries, and highlights their potential to address environmental challenges and improve people’s lives.
In June, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India launched what is being billed as the world’s first chatbot ‘Plastic Reporter’ in Goa, aimed at revolutionising waste management by efficiently gathering crucial information about plastic waste through WhatsApp.
What sets this chatbot apart is its ability to interact directly with users without the need for them to download a separate application or a high speed internet connection, thus saving valuable storage space on their mobile phones and other additional costs.
The significance of this application is particularly noteworthy for Goa, a highly populated tourist destination, where an effective waste management solution is desperately needed. The centralised platform not only offers official recommendations for garbage disposal but also provides information about recycling facilities and disposal sites based on users’ locations.
The introduction of chatbots will give citizens more motivation to take a more proactive approach to the problem of rubbish disposal.
Universally, chatbots play a crucial role in informing and empowering people, allowing them to contribute to waste management and pollution reduction efforts.
Joseph Weizenbaum, a German-American computer scientist created the first chatbot, called ELIZA, in the 1960s at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which simulated conversation with humans using pattern matching and basic language processing techniques.
Chatbots have come a long way since then as extensions of communication systems like instant messengers. Initially created to mimic human responses in conversational discussions, chatbots were designed to enable dialogue even when no human was available on the other end. They could engage in a conversation with a computer without the necessity of being connected to a network.
Originally associated with artificial intelligence systems, chatbots evolved as networking systems advanced and the internet became more widely used. Over time, they transitioned from messaging systems to being directly integrated into websites. In their current form, chatbots are predominantly found as part of websites.
The role of chatbots has also become more complex and diverse with the advancements in cloud computing infrastructure and machine learning techniques. The focus has now shifted from mere intelligence to acquiring knowledge, enabling chatbots to respond in an informative manner. This transformation made chatbots more suitable for educational purposes, leading to further innovation.
Chatbots are most commonly utilised in online service portals, particularly within industries that rely on the predetermined question and response patterns. Examples include insurance and banking portals, as well as e-commerce sites. These industries heavily leverage chatbots to address customer inquiries and provide specific information about financial products or any other relevant queries. Consequently, they stand out as some of the most frequent users of chatbot technology.
In India, chatbots find extensive employment primarily within the professional online services industries, which have undergone complete digitisation. This is primarily driven by the necessity for accurate and authoritative information in a country like India, where multiple sources of information coexist. By integrating chatbots into their operations, these industries can offer a centralised and reliable source of information to their customers, establishing themselves as trusted providers.
While a chatbot alone cannot solve the complex problems of garbage and pollution in a space like Goa, it serves as a valuable intervention in the global battle against garbage and waste by empowering users to reduce their environmental impact by making them aware about available facilities, participating in proactive cleanup activities, or exploring recycling and resale opportunities.
With the continuous evolution of chatbot technology, like in the case of WWF’s ‘Plastic Reporter’ we can expect further advancements and innovations that will enhance their capabilities in addressing challenges related to the environment and other critical spheres of life.
(Gilroy Menezes, is the Vice President of Kilowott, a Goa-based tech company. He is also a subject expert the evolution of chatbots and harnessing the power of the technology for businesses and social development.)