There's a bot for that: the next tech shift is here

02/24/2016 01:01 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2017

The phrase "there's an app for that" rightfully serves as the motto for the saturation of today's app marketplaces. This saturation inevitably means that it's becoming increasingly difficult for app-based startup companies to stand out from the crowd, and it's a safe bet that most consumers are running out of room on their smartphones and other devices for all those apps, too. App saturation and the consumer behaviors that result from it suggest that we're on the verge of a replacement or compliment to the app. Signs point to the rise of the bot, and consumers should expect to be interacting with one regularly in the near future if they aren't already.

A few months ago, I opened a savings accounts without going through a bank or talking to a human. Since then, I've been saving money with the help of a robot named 'Digit.' This robot is only as tangible to me as a contact in my phone's address book, but the money I save through the bot is very real. Digit reminds me how much I've saved each month, saves spare change from transactions that hit my checking account, and I can opt to save any amount by simply texting the bot instructions. This is just one example of how bots are being integrated into daily tasks and experiences.

Ultimately, messaging bots can carry out myriad tasks for users via basic communication (text messaging), conveniently ruling out the need to download, maintain and run a number of apps. For 15 different apps, it's possible to have just one 'bot' on the job instead; checking off a full to-do list.

Different types of bots can also automate conversations, transactions, or workflows -- and that's where they become especially compelling for businesses. For example, companies like Uber, Lyft, Foursquare, and Postmates all lean on the chatbox service Assist for business operations. The company is poised to scale their service, having recently closed a seed round of $5.5 million. Today, Assist's users can book reservations, order tickets, hire couriers, get food delivered -- you name it -- by messaging with the chatbot service via text (or in Slack, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram).

Of course, startups aren't the only ones to recognize a growing trend. Just last month, Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to focus on an Artificial Intelligence project to help him run personal and professional projects, and Facebook announced that they'd give some developers "access to an unannounced Chat SDK," according to Techcrunch. Although unconfirmed, it appears that Assist is one of the entities with access to Facebook's Chat SDK, as the platform is equipped to integrate with Messenger via Facebook. As of last year, Facebook Messenger had over 800 million users, 275 million are on Kik Messenger, 1 billion WhatsApp users, 62 million Telegram users -- and that's just to name a few platforms. If just a fraction of these users begin to integrate chatbot services into their daily lives through these platforms, we should expect an enormous shift in the way that consumers and businesses use technology altogether.

The rise of the bots is here, but it doesn't necessarily mean the end of apps is a synonymous event. "We don't think apps are going anywhere," says Shane Mac, CEO of Assist. "They are great for many things. We just see a space emerging that is both easier and much bigger than the app world. Apps are expensive and hard to build, let alone maintain. Bots offer the simplest way for every business in the world to interact, transact, and offer their services on any mobile device."

"Bots will be the frontline to every business and service in the world," says Mac. "The last step, if you need support, will be talking to a human. If it can be done via a bot, it will be."