Twilio launches Autopilot to help developers build better bots

Bots went through the hype cycle faster than a speeding roller coaster, as the promise of chatting with a computer quickly turned sour. Now, Twilio wants to take another stab at this market with the launch of Autopilot, a new developer service for building omnichannel bot experiences.

“Omnichannel” is a word only a marketer could love, but the core idea behind Autopilot is to allow developers to build an application once and then deploy it to any support channel, no matter whether that’s SMS, chat, Slack, Alexa or the Google Assistant.

Autopilot handles all of the natural language understanding and machine learning necessary to build these bots and promises that developers can focus on the business logic and user experience. Developers can bring their own data to train the bots and teach them when to trigger which actions based on previous conversations.

Using style sheets, developers can tweak the language, tone of voice and other aspects of the bot’s responses to ensure that they are on brand. Those stylesheets may actually be the most interesting part of the service. Currently, they allow you to specify the overall personality and conversational style of the bot. In the future, though, this could enable businesses to create a personalized bot for every customer and give them exactly the right kind of experience that will make them feel more positive about a brand (feel free to start a discussion about the ethics of this in the comments).

When things go awry and the bots have to give up, then Autopilot can automatically transition the conversation to a human. Unsurprisingly, the service can be deeply integrated with Twilio’s Flex contact center service to enable those transitions. As Twilio noted, transitioning from bot to human isn’t exactly new, but think of all of the times when that happened to you. You probably had to give your account number to the bot or phone tree and then the human agent asked you for the same information again. That’s a waste of time for everybody. Autopilot promises to pass all of this information on to the agent in the Flex contact center so you can pay that water bill and move on with your life.

Autopilot, which shouldn’t be confused with marketing startup Autopilot (which also has a partnership with Twilio), is now available to all developers in public beta.