Your child is endlessly staring at the small rectangular screen – eyebrows arched as if anxiously awaiting the revelation of life’s greatest mystery from the furtive party on the other side of the screen.
She giggles with delight – and then laughs loudly followed by the words, “I can’t believe you said that to me!”
Concerned that some vapid juvenile delinquent just disparaged your daughter — you grab the phone to digitally break his face when you realize the aberrant offender is not a person – but rather the MAGIC EIGHT BOT. Magic Eight Bot? What?
Yep, the round black ball of our youth is now an active bot on Kik – a popular messaging app used by nearly 40% of American teens. However, Magic Eight is just one of many bots on KIK and other apps — with thousands more being developed and available on apps such as Facebook, SnapChat and others.
What exactly is a bot or Chatbot?
According to Matt Schlicht, CEO of Octane AI & Founder of Chatbots Magazine, “A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc.).”
You probably use them a lot but simply didn’t know their classification name. It could be an automated weather forecast, or a voice system used for ordering food online.
Alexa and Siri are bots. If you think back to your hazy, crazy days of college you might recall AOL’s Instant Messenger known as SmarterChild.
Well, they’ve come a long way since SmarterChild, and they’re getting smarter.
So, why do teens find them so compelling?
In great part, because this generation’s preferred means of communication can be summed up in two separate words: “Mobile” and “Messaging.”
Additionally, flying under the radar for most of us is the growth of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. These developments and the evolution and popularity of messaging platforms, such as — Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber is energizing this new age of meaningful interaction with bots and chatbots.
Just like “brick and mortar” retailers want you to spend more time in their stores – marketers want you to spend more time with bots – because it can lead to higher product sales.
Who is at the epicenter of such change?
You guessed it – your child, aka Gen Z.
Consider the Stats: Collectively, the top four messaging apps that we mentioned above have more registered users, higher retention, and higher engagement than the top four social networks. Change is not happening… it already happened when we were not looking.
Are the social media apps going away?
Although the trend of downloading new apps is slowing — it does not mean that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and others are going away anytime soon. However, it does suggest that the tsunami of new apps might be a thing of the past – as more and more people are settling on the use of approximately 5 apps.
Additionally, organizations such as Facebook are at the forefront of bot development – adding many to their own platforms. VENTURE BEAT reports that Facebook developers have created more than 11,000 chatbots for its Messenger platform. The aforementioned Kik platform – which internationally is a top teen messaging app, now has over 6,000 new chatbots.
The Bot Advantage
Remember, the reason apps and now bots exist is to sell something in one of two ways.
- To convince you to buy a product under the auspices of providing free, helpful information
- To sell your information to a marketing company
The advantage for marketing companies and developers is that bot development can circumvent App Store approval, updates, and a user’s operating system. Additionally, bot development is easier to execute.
Since the very profitable youth culture spends so much of their time with messaging apps – bots are often the best means of connecting with this demographic.
As Todd Dean, co-founder and chief marketing officer at the mobile-first employment solution Wirkn wrote in Venture Beat:
“Chatbots are fun and exciting today, and teens are the main barometer and the ones to watch as they engage and drive the evolution. Companies that fund chatbot development are taking notice and voting with their wallets. There is no question in my mind that chatbots are here to stay and that they will play a very big role in the future of innovation. They may just become so human-like and ubiquitous that we don’t even know they are there.”
Most Bots Are Fun… But
Although there are thousands of new bots embedded in apps and websites – most are rather non-threatening to your child. Yet parents and guardians must understand that with every great technology advancement there is often inappropriate content developed around such technology. We, of course, have seen this over the years with pornography. With the proliferation and easy access to Internet porn, addiction has become an issue for children as young as 12. Sadly, as we’ve seen in the past, we now see porn bots embedded in some of the apps our children use.
Bots spewing porn? Really?
According to a 2014 article in Forbes detailing the onslaught in porn bots on Kik, writer Parmy Olson said, “These are fake, autonomous programs that more often than not, try to entice Kik’s users to click on paid-for sites with flirty conversations and the promise of porn — glorified chat bots with one thing in mind.
According to Kik, “porn bots” make up around 1% of the app’s entire message volume each day, suggesting that thousands of them regularly crawl its network.”
Much of bot porn is solicited through spamming. Olson also suggested, “The spammers may be in this for the long haul because they’re making good money. Typically a bot will offer to show a Kik user nude pictures, on condition they navigate to a dating or cam site, and enter their credit card information.”
Given the vulnerability of teens and their sometimes access to their parent’s credit card information – this is a potentially expensive issue for families.
Ironically, ONWARD is a new bot to help minimize our addictions to pornography and addictions to screen time, dating apps, shopping, gambling and video games.
Obviously, most kids are not speaking with porn bots. So what bots are they using?
According to TechJunkie, the following are the best bots on the market:
- Funny Or Die
- Joke Bot
- Notifications Bot
- Zombie Invasion
- Lingio Quiz+Translate
- The Weather Channel
However, TechJunkie has a warning on Sensay:
“Sensay matches you up with a complete stranger to chat about anything. It can use location to find another Kik user close by or further away and is a great way to meet new people anonymously. The bot will not identify your username so you really can chat about absolutely anything. Sometimes this will work in your favor, other times it really won’t!”
When they say anything… they mean anything.
Forewarned is forearmed.
So take heed Mom and Dad. Is it better that your son or daughter is being wooed or affronted by a stranger on Kik, SnapChat, Yellow, or Instagram – or by a bot that is storing information about their likes, dislikes, location, purchases, awake time, etc.?
Remember your answer the next time your child says to her phone, “I can’t believe you just said that to me”