Bot Wars: A Collateral Gift Of The Automation Revolution

I received an email Wednesday morning from a company launching new features for a bot called Trim which will negotiate a lower cable bill for you. Give it your Comcast login info and it will launch a support-chat window and go to work negotiating rates on your behalf. This could be a lower monthly rate, or one-time credits for slow or intermittent service.

This chatbot is a glimpse into our cat-and-mouse future. If rate-reducing automation is widely adopted by customers, Comcast will have an incentive to spot these chatbots and act accordingly, and they’ll probably want to automate that. This leads quickly to a war of bots.

How many times has Hackaday predicted the future? The coming bot wars were hinted at in an article I wrote back in 2009 on the re-emergence of Tradewars 2002. This is a turn-based BBS game that I loved as a child. The second version added an automation layer — the game had become a challenge to write a better script than your opponent to play the game with maximum efficiency. Of course, it’s only a prediction if you realize it at the time. But this gamification of automation from seven years ago is about to jump into the mainstream.

You win if your automation outperforms your competitors; this is the founding idea of the automation age. There’s no event horizon to mark our slide into the new realm. But we know the financial markets have been playing this game for a long time now (think flash crash and algorithmic trading). Continuing the customer service call example, call centers have been using scripts for years. Automation stems from this, just cutting out the human; you may already be talking to a chatbot and not knowing it — a human takes over when the bot has already verified your account info and gets stumped. The real question is will you take up arms by building your own bots or using those available from startups like Trim? Maybe you already have? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

[Image Source: the main and thumbnail images are of course from the United Artists film War Games.]

16 thoughts on “Bot Wars: A Collateral Gift Of The Automation Revolution

  1. Fascinating.

    “If rate-reducing automation is widely adopted by customers, Comcast will have an incentive to spot these chatbots…”

    I’ve got a better dystopia for you: Comcast *itself* making and selling/giving away those chatbots.

    Outrageous, I hear you say? Watch Google giving away browsers and phone operating systems. We’re there… and beyond.

      1. The photos app on my android phone can return accurate search results for words like “tank” (I build models of armored fighting vehicles). I’ve never tagged photos; it just knows what it’s looking at. I’ve even noticed it improving over time, as it used to be confused by German “ambush” camo on cluttered backgrounds, but isn’t anymore. The technology is incredibly handy and mildly terrifying.

    1. Why? What’s in it for Comcast, beyond selling crappy bots that can’t social-crack it’s own services? If they try that, they’re likely to get ignored, as people got for the better chatbot solutions offered by others.

      Even if they otherwise offer an incentive to do the negotiation with their own chatbot, they have essentially found a way to build a somewhat unreliable web interface with a ton more work. They also still end up making concessions to the user to get them to use the bot in the first place.

      1. While interests may align on occasion, the benefits are very rarely equal. And in cases like this, things can be made worse in the long run. Since the net became ubiquitous, it is now almost impossible to get any brick-and-mortar retailer to quote a price over the phone. In these sorts of struggles the consumer almost always gets the wet end of the stick.

    1. natahacknotahacknatahacknotahacknatahacknotahacknatahacknotahacknatahacknotahacknatahacknotahacknatahacknotahack…Ctrl+Break

      sorry…troubleshooting now. Will have results in a few weeks

  2. they will never be advanced enough that we, fellow humans, can not see that they are the machines.
    There is nothing for you, i mean us, to worry about, we should not worry and continue our lives.

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