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Kieren Hewins By Kieren Hewins • December 20, 2016

Are Chatbots Really new … or are they “sooo 1998”?

[A personal account of our support engineer's first Bot experience]

It may have been some time ago, but I remember my school days, and the application that was “MSN Messenger” as if it was yesterday. You would rush home from school and dial up the internet (it wasn’t always on like the ADSL of today) and log into MSN Messenger so you could converse with the same friends that you had just parted ways with.


FRANK makes an appearance

I recall one day being in the school yard and a friend of mine telling me about a new friend that he had added called “FRANK” which it transpired was very knowledgeable and extremely quick to reply. Of course my curiosity was roused – I got the contact address for FRANK off of my friend and went on my way. 15:30 came and I raced home in order to add him as a friend.

I spoke to FRANK for hours on end, day after day and when I didn’t say anything for an extended period of time I would get told “ask me a question – here are some things you could ask me” – bizarrely the suggested questions were drug related and FRANK seemed extremely knowledgeable about them… more so than anything else in fact. (For non-UK readers, “Talk to Frank” is a charity drug-prevention campaign aimed at teens and young adults – teaching the younger generation the dangers of drug use and abuse.)

One day the conversation stagnated and I decided to search the web for FRANK and of course his contact details – there was little to be found but I recall stumbling on an article that referred to FRANK as “not being a person” so I asked my new found friend FRANK – if he wasn’t a person, what was he?

Who is FRANK?

It is 1998 at this point so nothing would have prepared me for the response I received “I am FRANK, a Robot powered by “Talk to FRANK” to find out more go to *insert correct URL here*” – I was flabbergasted, I had been talking to a robot, one that could remember my name, ASL (you remember that right?), and various other details about me.

I had totally forgotten about Frank but with the increased coverage on Bots and AI, I cannot help but think – would FRANK fall into these categories? – Probably. Unfortunately for FRANK however, he was ahead of his time and the idea of a ‘Bot remembering details about you and not requiring a human to be at the other end was freaking people out so he suddenly became a lot less popular to the extent that the service was shut down.

So the question is, are bots new… or are they “sooo 1998”?

Useful Reading:

>>Blog:  MindLink API - Your Bot Framework For Lync/Skype For Business On Premise

>>Blog: The World Has Gone “Chatbot" Crazy! What’s In It For B2B?