Bots are fast becoming a thing in Nigeria

Food blog EatDrinkLagos started the year with the launch of a bot on its website that can order food for you and recommend cool places to dine.

Bots are fast becoming a thing in the Nigerian tech ecosystem.

For the past few years, interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its applications has steadily been on the rise globally. From full-blown robots to digital assistants, the technology is fast infiltrating every facet of human interaction with technology.

In Nigeria, the shift towards AI has not been as swift as it's been in the rest of the world. But that doesn't mean the ecosystem is completely ignorant of the capabilities of the technology. If anything, AI is starting to catch up with more familiar technological applications.

Nigeria is the most mobile-friendly country in the world and Nigerian developers (as well as their global counterparts) have generally been faced with two dilemmas: Do they build solutions for Android or iOS? - until the advent of instant messaging across the globe.

Messaging platforms have now become so ubiquitous, the average Nigerian developer is being forced to become platform agnostic - to an extent. Almost every Nigerian with a smartphone makes use of either Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and other [social media] messaging platforms at least once every day, highlighting a huge potential market for businesses and services: the closer [and more relatable] you can get to the consumer, the better.

How the Nigerian tech ecosystem views AI (in this case, bots) is quite important to making this shift from platform-focused solutions to cross-platform programming. Jason Njoku, Founder/CEO of iROKO, reckons messaging platforms will soon become 'the internet' and the vehicle through which end users get information and services.

"In-time messaging platforms will become the internet and will be more efficient at delivering information and services," he says in an article published on his website in August 2016. Njoku made this prediction shortly after Facebook Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg opened the Messenger Platform to developers to create bots.

According to the blurb Facebook released for the launch, "Whether you're building apps or experiences to share weather updates, confirm reservations at a hotel, or send receipts from a recent purchase, bots make it possible for you to be more personal, more proactive, and more streamlined in the way that you interact with people."

Before Facebook opened up the Messenger platform other messaging platforms like Slack and Skype had already opened up their platforms to developers. People like Big Cabal's Ire Aderinokun started experimenting with Slack bots as early as February 2016, arguably sparking initial widespread interest in bots within the ecosystem.

By mid-2016, Babajide Fowotade had built NairaBot, a Messenger-based bot that could give forex information on request. In no time various bots like StockBot (a stocks/finance bot available on Messenger, Skype, Slack, Telegram) and Showtime (an entertainment bot available on Messenger, Slack, Telegram) started to show up.

Keeping up the trend, 2017 has brought on an interesting dynamic in Nigeria's 'bot revolution'. Food blog EatDrinkLagos started the year with the launch of a bot on its website that can recommend cool places to dine based on your budget.

Kudi.ai is another interesting Messenger-based (for now) finance-focused bot that can buy airtime and transfer funds for you. Ringier's own Seye Kuyinu (a versatile tech buff) has also played around with a Messenger bot of his own. Access to tools for this kind of technology is no problem for the willing.

Undeniably, there is a strong case to be made for the development of bot-based solutions in Nigeria - the obvious interest amongst developers being a positive indication of the possibilities this technology offers.

The rise of bots offers Nigeria potential avenues to solve a lot of its unique problems though it's hard to tell if the trend will be sustained or if it will fizzle out at a later point.

For now, the ecosystem is very interested in its potential applications and some of the solutions that have been built are indicative of the capabilities of Nigeria's tech ecosystem.

May the best bot win.

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