The chatbots have landed!!
Would you bother talking to someone when you can just converse with your phone? Since we filmed Episode 5 on the gamification of language-learning, the massively popular app Duolingo has released its new chatbot feature. Powered by artificial intelligence, this feature provides a range of ‘virtual language tutors’ for users to interact with. Characters such as ‘Chef Roberto,’ ‘Renée the Driver’ and ‘Officer Ada’ are unlocked after completing the app’s preliminary levels and are designed to replicate human responses via text messaging. As Duolingo’s website states:
From grabbing a slice of pizza to hailing a taxi, Bots prepare you for real-life conversations — minus the awkwardness and anxiety. The hardest part of learning a new language just became easy.
The notion of a learner’s likely ‘awkwardness and anxiety’ is worth following up on here, as it’s particularly prevalent in the area of language-learning. With this in mind, Adam dedicated the latest OGW Live Periscope broadcast to this very topic:
— Our Gamified World (@Gamified_World) November 6, 2016
There is perhaps nothing more ‘foreign’ and potentially intimidating to a student (of any age) than taking up a new language. The learning curve is high and the breadth of ‘content’ to take in seemingly limitless. Chatbots will undoubtedly be adopted by Duolingo users with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and they will certainly have limitations that ensure they fall short of actual interpersonal interactions – at least for now. New developments won’t be far away, and the text-only nature of the chatbots will be upgraded soon enough. Duolingo is certainly invested in the feature, with CEO and co-founder CEO Luis von Ahn labelling chatbots ‘a sophisticated and effective answer’ to the ‘daunting’ prospect of speaking in another tongue. It will be interesting to see where and how it goes.
There is a touch of irony in that the laborious repetition involved in learning a language can often make one feel robotic, and now the chatbots may at least in part be coming to rescue us from our artificiality…