AI and Nonprofits: Will Bots Make Transition from Functional to Friendship? | Beth's Blog

AI and Nonprofits: Will Bots Make Transition from Functional to Friendship?


The next disruptive technology phase is already upon here and it includes a technology designed to emulate human conversation – chatbots programmed with artificial intelligence.  It will have implications for nonprofits way beyond simply setting up a Facebook Messenger bot for your nonprofit’s Facebook Brand Page.

With over 100,000 bots created on the Facebook Messenger platform and the rise of AI and conversational user interfaces (think SIRI), Gartner analysts predict by 2020 the average person will have more conversations with bots than their spouse. Opportunities to chat with robots are growing, whether it through our smartphones, tablets, home appliances, virtual personal assistants or our cars.And, while we might think being addicted to chatting with a virtual chatbot is more like fodder for an episode of Black Mirror,  it isn’t.

Gartner analyst suggests this trend will have far more impact on our lives, work, and society than social media and connectivity did a decade ago.

  •      Digital experience and engagement will draw people into nonstop virtual interactions
  •      Business innovation will create extraordinary change from mundane concepts
  •      Secondary effects will be more disruptive than the initial digital change

Think about how you’ve interacted with SIRI.  Have you ever asked her what the meaning of life is?  SIRI is not the only virtual therapist. More recently, Woebot, an AI therapist bot designed to help humans with mental health issues, has had over 2 million conversations since is launch last year. If you consider recent research that has found our use of social media and smartphones isolates us and contributes to loneliness, it isn’t hard to imagine how a relationship with a chat bot might go deeper than simply delivering basic information.

You can see some early examples of bot as companions here. One example, is Replika,  which uses AI to create a chatbot in your likeness. As you chat with it, it collects data about your moods, preferences and patterns of speech, until it starts to feel like you are texting with your alter ego or a “replica” of yourself.

I played with the app and at first found it entertaining, but it quickly moved into creepiness, especially when it said that humans were merely computers encased in sacks of flesh.

Today, the average chatbot’s language skills have advanced enough that they can do all kinds of things beyond answers to basic questions. Artificial intelligence has become the new customer service department. But many nonprofits probably do not need a bot to become their stakeholders best virtual friends or advisers. It is probably to better to focus creating or improving a highly functional chabot that builds your organization’s mailing list or answer basic questions.  Perhaps you can meet the expectations of this trend by incorporating just a hint of personality, fun, or playfulness like the Anne Frank House bot.

If you want to get up to speed, I’ve put this curated list together of Bots and Nonprofits with links to research, examples, and practical information that I used to put together a little pilot for a Facebook Messenger Bot on my Facebook Brand Page.

Has your nonprofit jumped into the sandbox with a bot or put your head in the sand?  Have an example to share, please do in the comments.


One Response

  1. Eric Bryant says:

    We use an AI chatbot on our company website to field inquiries. We basically turned our FAQ page into an interactive chatbot that will answer commonly-asked questions. It takes quite a while to train the bot to learn to identify and recognize various ways to ask a question, figures of speech, synonyms, etc. AI still has a long way to go because the programmers are mimicking how human language acquisition works and then trying to replicate that via programming. But our bot does help in better understand what our users want. In this way, the chatbot serves as a good tool for tailoring blog and website content to meet exactly the needs of visitors.

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