Americans Have a Hard Time Trusting Chatbots: Pew Research

Americans don’t trust social media bots, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.

Specifically, some 80 percent of those who have heard about bots have a negative impression of them; contrast that with the 17 percent who believe that bots are mostly used for “good purposes.”

Nor do Americans think they can detect bots, with just 47 percent either somewhat or very confident that they can identify bots at work. A majority of them also think that bots are responsible for a “fair amount” of the news and information that Americans receive via social media platforms such as Facebook.

But in better news for businesses and tech pros who are building bots for a variety of commercial uses, some 55 percent of Americans find the use of bots to promote products “acceptable.” Around 53 percent also think it’s okay if a bot answers customer-service queries. (The more bots are used in a news-spreading or political context, the less people like them—which seems logical, given all the news stories about bots helping spread misinformation on an industrial scale.)

Bots are facing some friction from governments, as well. A new California law, Senate Bill 1001, will prevent chatbots from pretending as though they’re human; however, there are some broad exceptions to the proposal, such as bots needing more than 10 million unique users before they’re subject to regulation. There’s also a bill inching through the U.S. Congress that would regulate “automated software programs intended to impersonate or replicate human activity.”

Should tech pros continue to build bots? Despite the controversy over their use (and their actual effectiveness), there are definitely cases in which bots can save a company considerable time and resources (such as online customer service). And there are plenty of tools that make bot-building a relatively straightforward process, including Microsoft’s Bot Builder SDK (part of its Cognitive Services) and Google’s Dialogflow (formerly API.AI).

If the motivation is there, in other words, a bot can prove a useful (and quick, hopefully) thing to build. But don’t expect that all customers will instantly trust your creation.

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