As seen in A List. Published on 01 November 2019.
Bus Uncle is a superstar in the world of chatbots, boasting over 200,000 users across Facebook Messenger and Telegram.
While its main function is to provide users with bus timings, Bus Uncle delivers this information with equal parts grump and sass.
Those curious about the mind behind the bot’s endlessly cheeky one-liners can look forward to hearing from its creator Abhilash Murthy. He will join a panel of speakers from the tech industry to give a talk titled Chatbots And The Human Connection at the Singapore Writers Festival. The talk will discuss what chatbots reflect about our society’s language habits.
The idea for Bus Uncle came to Mr Murthy while he was waiting for a bus in 2016. He wanted to know the arrival of the next bus without fussing around with applications. He simply wanted to be told.
As a software developer, he decided the solution was to create a bot that would simply provide him, as well as other public commuters, the information you required, and to make it available via social messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, which have a wide reach.
Unlike regular chatbots, however, Bus Uncle does not present users with a menu of questions to choose from. Instead, users type out questions for Bus Uncle, which is trained to recognise Internet slang and text messaging shorthand. For users, the experience of chatting with Bus Uncle is akin to having a conversation with a friend, and the reason for the chatbot’s popularity.
On why he decided to create a bot that was not only functional but also conversational, Mr Murthy says: “When people think about getting things, it always starts with a conversation with themselves where they will say, ‘I need to get this done.’”
Ultimately, Mr Murthy’s goal is to create more chatbots in Bus Uncle’s likeness by adapting the components of Bus Uncle that made it so well-loved.
He says: “With Bus Uncle, we created a unique space for chatbots. We want to use our learnings from Bus Uncle to create tools to build good chatbots for businesses to connect with their customers effectively.”