Today, we’re excited to announce our investment in Botpress, a fast-growing open source platform that makes it easy for developers to build a digital assistant for any application. Conversational AI and natural language understanding (NLU) have made it possible for computers to speak with humans, but integrating this technology into daily life has been challenging for most technology organizations. Botpress’ mission is to make it simple for any and all developers to create a conversational interface without data science or machine learning expertise required. Companies like Accenture, Shell, Siemens, Zoom, and numerous other Global 2000 businesses use Botpress to bridge the technological gap between human and computer. Having already reached millions of consumers around the world, Botpress is making it possible for us to chat with computers as if they were a friend or colleague.
We asked Sylvain Perron, founder and CEO, to share his vision for Botpress and its open source community in our founder Q&A:
I’m from a small town in far northern Quebec – we are definitely “north of north” in a very rural area. At 10 years old, I got my first computer and found a book on computer programming in my elementary school library. By fourth grade I was writing my own code in C++. Computer science was one of the only ways to find a career outside of my small town and I went to college in Quebec City to get my degree. Sometime during my third year, I read a news story that Google would no longer require college degrees to get a programming job. I had a significant amount of debt and dropped out immediately. That’s when I realized I was going to take my own path through life and someday be an entrepreneur.
In my first real job as a software developer, I was tasked with building and running a very complex risk management tool. It ingested a lot of market data and had a lot of advanced analytics for analysts to get answers to their questions about their portfolio. You might imagine we had a very complex UI which was only getting harder to use as we built more features, and end users were getting lost in the product. I woke up one day with an epiphany: “If the analyst can ask a question in just a few sentences … shouldn’t I be able to build an application that can translate their words into actions?” There weren’t any easy tools to do this as a developer, and Botpress was born shortly thereafter.
As a developer growing up in Quebec City, I could not afford expensive software and early on found open source invaluable in my daily life. We had open sourced a few other projects before Botpress and knew that if we could put the right seeds in developer’s hands that they could build upon it and make it their own. Just a few days after launching Botpress, we had thousands of people giving us great feedback and making contributions, which was really exciting. We didn’t realize how big the project had grown until at one point a large Fortune 50 company called us and said they needed support and were willing to pay us $10,000! As it turned out, the lawyer fee for just helping us read the contract was more than $10,000, so the deal wasn’t profitable. Soon we were getting lots of cold calls from Fortune 5000 companies and we knew we had built something.
We have thousands of companies using us but my favorite use cases are where chatbots can dramatically improve the quality of life for underprivileged people. One of my favorite use cases is Reliance Jio, India’s largest wireless company, who uses Botpress to reach millions of consumers a day. In India, most phones are not smartphones, but flip phones, which are totally unsuited to enter text. They wanted their customers to be able to interact with local businesses using voice, and built the entire application with Botpress. When COVID-19 hit, we also helped the Quebec government support 8 million residents who relied on calling into the state contact center to get emergency medical information throughout the pandemic. I think conversational AI can augment what each of us do in our lives, and also make technology more accessible to people who are not as comfortable using software every day.
I think we will look back at the 2020’s as the era of conversational AI. Nvidia, Google, and OpenAI have all made substantial breakthroughs in NLU models and GPU power, and it is now very likely that in the next few years we will hit the tipping point where it will be indiscernible whether you are talking to a human or a computer. I think Botpress will change how we think about building software for users over time. Today, we build software with only one user interface, and give everyone a set of rigid instructions for how to use it. This is a fairly brute force way to think about user experience and will feel out of date with time. Giving people freedom to speak with any application will make software feel highly personalized for each person. Conversation is the ultimate UI and I think we can make this a reality for everyone.