At Microsoft's recent BUILD conference, part of its keynote speech was devoted to "chatbots." That seems like an odd subject for Microsoft, but after a bit it became clear that Microsoft thinks bots are the next stage of computing after programs and apps.
Microsoft isn't alone. Facebook could possibly be rolling out a bot store soon and popular business chat app, Slack, has had bots for a while. Google is almost certainly working on bots as well. So, what are bots?
Chatbots are tiny pieces of artificial intelligence that specialize in a single task. So, they're like Google Now or Siri, but much more focused. You can add them to a chat programs, like Microsoft's Skype, Facebook's Messenger, or Slack. Some companies already use them on their websites for basic customer support.
You can talk to the chatbot to make things happen, or the bot might work in the background to make your life easier. There's already a Taco Bell chatbot that lets you order and pay for food through a messaging system. Twitter has a Domino's bot that makes it simple to order pizza.
However, developers are looking at even more advanced bots. For example, you might get a bot that schedules restaurant reservations. When you suggest to a friend that you visit a particular restaurant at a certain date and time, and the friend agrees, the bot schedules a reservation for you and adds it to your calendar automatically.