Bots vs chatbots vs robots vs AI

Ava Chisling
November 6, 2016

Here’s a look at four terms people use interchangeably when really, they are nothing alike — most of the time.

Regardless about how you feel about drones, driverless cars, data-gathering and automated everything from energy usage to garbage pickup, algorithms are here and they are not going anywhere but up.

ROSS CEO/Cofounder Andrew Arruda often tells the story about how sometimes, when he goes into a law firm to pitch the company’s AI software, people expect a robot to glide in after him. In September, Toronto Life published a great article on the opening of ROSS’s new research and development lab in the city, and the headline read: Ross the robot is the city’s best legal mind.

So is ROSS a robot? Are chatbots robots? Is a chatbot AI? Is AI a robot? It’s time to set the record straight and ROSS Intelligence CTO/Cofounder Jimoh Ovbiagele is the man for the job.

Here’s how Jimoh defines all four:

1. A bot is an application of AI used to automate tasks e.g. chatbot to book a hotel or a robot to fold your laundry.

2. Chatbots are software applications that can use AI to converse with human users to help them accomplish some goal, but most companies today use rule-based bots (here) which are not really AI, but they can be deployed faster. (here).

3. Robots are hardware applications of AI that have bodies and motor abilities (arms and legs, sometimes but not necessarily) to accomplish physical tasks in real environments rather than virtual. Robots can also run chatbot software, making them chatbots, too.

4. AI refers to broad set techniques that allow computers to mimic human intelligence, e.g., carry conversations, walk around, make decisions, create art, etc.

Still not completely clear? We can help.

The helpful bots and chatbots

Bots vs chatbots vs robots vs AI

According to Glenn Miller, “A bot is piece of software that is designed and created to automate the kinds of tasks we would usually do on our own, like making a reservation, adding an event to your calendar or displaying information.” You already deal with bots to conduct searches and read news in your Twitter and Facebook feeds (watch out for #fakenews bots!). “Now, imagine leveraging such technology to create a type of bot that engages with people and stimulates conversation or chat.” That is what we call a chatbot.

“Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps,” writes Dan Shewan. They work by “processing the text presented to them by the user (a process known as parsing), before responding according to a complex series of algorithms that interprets and identifies what the user said, infers what they mean and/or want, and determine a series of appropriate responses based on this information.”

Some chatbots you may have encountered include DOM the pizza bot, MedWhat to bring out your hypochondria, the ageless Alice, and Facebook’s endless array of chatbots for Messenger, including CNN, Kayak, DuoLingo, etc. You can even download a chatbot to help you file a claim against Equifax if you’re affected by its data breach.

And yes, there are bots and chatbots that rely on some artificial intelligence, which has the ability to learn and solve problems on its own. This makes bots and chatbots smarter, to help you better. Think of how GPS systems have improved from being semi-reliable to something most of us rely on to find our way every day. (here).

What about robots? Aren’t they taking over the world?

Bots vs chatbots vs robots vs AI

Robots are machines designed to perform mechanical functions. They don’t have to look like humans. In fact, most don’t. Some are simple robotic arms long used in factory assembly lines for automation. Small robots are being deployed beneath glaciers to give us information on their melt rate and how they form. Robots go to the bottom of the sea, where the immense pressure would crush a human. They are employed to defuse and set off bombs by the military. Drones are flying robots, controlled or programmed by human hands and minds. (here)

Think of bots, chatbots and robots as having limited intelligence in that their smarts are limited to what we put into them. Your Roomba vacuum robot may occasionally malfunction, but it is not going to turn against you. Famous chatbots like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa may be annoying at times, but they’re not going to turn you into the IRS — at least we hope not.

According to robotics experts, decades may pass before robots will be capable of acting autonomously. They will almost certainly adopt AI. Some peg this at 20 years and more, but considering the progress made by autonomous cars, one could easily see this happening sooner. “Over the next few years, virtually every app, application, and service will incorporate some level of AI,” states research firm Gartner, whose Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2018 is infused with AI.

Ok, so what about Artificial Intelligence?

Bots vs chatbots vs robots vs AI

Rather than only contain the limited amount of information programmed into it, artificial intelligence replicates the way the human brain thinks by making billions of connections in layers so that it can learn and solve problems on its own. The most famous AI, IBM’s Watson, has defeated chess champions and won big on Jeopardy. It relies on a vast database and the ability to translate human language and conducts just the right search to get information.

“Artificial intelligence means a program with abilities to solve problems on its own,” writes Hira Saeed in VB. “If you ask a normal computer to solve a problem and it’s not programmed to do that, it won’t do anything. You’ll see a much different response if you do the same thing with an AI-powered program. Having A.I. do all your work is still not possible yet, however; AI still needs the human touch to perform tasks at different levels.”

As we recently explained in our history of AI article, artificial intelligence is not a new concept. The underpinnings of AI have been studied by an amazing series of mankind’s most famous philosophers and thinkers, mathematicians and computer scientists, theoreticians and psychologists. AI has, in its own peculiar DNA, a neural network of the greatest thoughts and minds of humankind. It has been around for a long while.

So, in summary, you can have chatbots with AI or without AI. There are robots that use AI and some that don’t. As for AI, well, artificial intelligence is the engine that runs your favorite chatbots and robots (usually), but it can also translate and communicate, help drive autonomous vehicles, locate tumors in radiology, research legal cases, pilot drones, predict storms and weather events, and determine probabilities for a wide-range of business applications that better mankind!

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.