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Why the world needs bots — and humans, too

07/12/2016

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Bots — they’re everywhere. You can’t read anything without reading about the latest bot craze.

But why now? Why are companies like CNN, Wall Street Journal and potentially Zillow investing in this tech, and what does any of it mean for you as a real estate agent or broker?

To start, what exactly is a bot?

A bot is an application that lives in a messaging tool. Generally, these are referred to as chatbots.

Developers with high hopes of their bot taking over the world all convened in San Francisco last week at Twilio’s Signal Developer Conference. The who’s-who of bot talk were all there, chatting up their latest automated chatters. From the product manager of Facebook Messenger to DocuSign, bots were the talk of the town.

And although one speaker session was titled, “I, For One, Welcome Our New Bot Overlords,” the conversations around bots isn’t what you’d expect. Bots, as invasive as they may be, don’t seek to dominate the real estate industry, but rather live to service you — and your clients.

Bots are babies

One thing is certain? — ?bots are in their infancy. The artificial intelligence (AI) that powers these bare-boned messaging interfaces is just now starting to walk on two feet.

If this scares you, it rightfully should. AI sucks, and without the right human companionship it will fall flat on its face.

Just ask Microsoft’s latest bot, Tay. Tay is the Twitter-based millennial bot who turned out to be a racist jerk — no thanks to its training from the next generation of homebuyers.

However, when trained the right way, millennials can make bots with a positive worldly impact, like the Moralit AI ethics bot which was inspired by recent moral dilemmas faced by developers of artificially intelligent software like those facing Tay, and Tesla’s autonomous car killing decisions.

Man vs. machine…why not man ? machine?

The recent broker vs. bot experiment resulted in a great conversation about how your brokerage will soon be impacted by a new wave of technology.

There are many kinds of bots, but realistically the “bot” portrayed in this experiment was actually not the bot you’d expect.

As mentioned earlier? — ?a bot is an application that lives in a messaging tool and there are four generally accepted styles of bots:

Chat bot: carries on a two-way conversation Personal assistance bot: answers questions and responds to commands Notification bot: posts in a chat room, a glorified RSS feed Command line bot: saves you from opening a new website outside your current app

So what’s the difference between a bot and an app?

An app is a self-contained program designed to fulfill a particular purpose. Just as the “bot” in this experiment is self-contained and designed to fulfill its purpose of finding similar properties from an input.

A bot lives in an unconfined world, one powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP), predictive models and neural networks. These computational networks seek out assistance from external or internal datasets that themselves can be powered by an application or algorithm.

The beauty in these bots is they can live anywhere with no additional learning curve or interface to figure out. In fact, most of the bots end up figuring you out and can quickly get to know your clients.

Chatbot technology allows you to stay inside the places you already live? — ?like SMS text, Facebook Messenger and Intercom.

The bot never has to ask you for your information because it already knows your name, location, age, phone number and more about you from the profile you’ve previously set up with your messaging tool. This allows for rich, contextual information to be portrayed through real-time conversation without the annoying learning curve.

Chatbots are coming to a neighborhood near you.

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As an agent or brokerage, you are the local go-to because of your personalized expertise within your community. You extend that personalized service to leads when they reach out, so how could a simple bot do the same?

Bots have been around awhile, and with recent advances in big data, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, bots have the ability to bring personalization to a whole new world.

Messaging is eating the world

One out of every five minutes spent on a mobile device is spent on Facebook or Instagram. Facebook Messenger is nearing 1 billion users, and SMS sees approximately 3 billion users. Millennials see no need to ever leave their messaging chats.

This means nobody is going to download your new shiny brokerage app (sorry). We’ve entered the messaging age, and that is great for your real estate business.

Why spend $10K on a custom app nobody will use? Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) restrict users from the experiences they deserve. Users deserve an experience that is unbound, flexible and personally catered to their every move. One that requires no additional learning curve or download time. It’s time we move beyond the GUI.

Instead, bots feature a Conversational User Interface (CUI) that lives in the apps you already use, with no download or learning required. Constraining buttons and navigation bars are nowhere to be found, but rather a simple, no-setup, powerful interface awaits, waiting for your every interaction.

As a brokerage or agent, it’s time you think about listing data in a new light. A CUI features a keen understanding of those interacting with it, whereas a GUI relies on a series of predetermined paths a user must follow. When Stacie Staub posted the question, “Can a bot get to know the person behind the home?” — the answer lies in the unstructured data created and analyzed within the CUI using advanced machine learning techniques in real time.

It seems as though bots are taking over the world. However, as powerful they may become, they’ll never replace the servitude provided by real estate professionals.

When coupled with advanced artificial intelligence and trained with the right technology, who’s to say man and machine can’t live together in harmony?

Nate is the co-founder of http://structure.ly, which provides real estate agents and brokers with personalized predictive technology.

Email Nate Joens.

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