Bots popping up everywhere (but how useful are they, really?)

Published on the 13/09/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson

chatbot_Sunny_solar energy

Another day, another bot…

Just hours after discovering a bot to register for an event taking place in Tauranga, another has exposed itself to a breathless world. It’s solarcity, with a lower-case S, which said in a statement that it is rolling out a new artificial intelligence chatbot online service that will – get this – make it easier for Kiwis to switch to solar.

Before we get to that, take a look at Dynamo6’s registration bot, with which iStart had a spirited, but ultimately unsuccessful engagement. Among the topics which came up to determine whether or not your humble correspondent is a robot was an exchange about what sort of wanton destruction should be unleashed on the world, and by what mechanism.

Turns out the bot decided it was I, and not it, which was the machine. Bottom line: the bot amused, but spectacularly failed to do anything more useful.

So, back to getting solared up more easily then. Trade Me, said the statement, will be first to offer the use of ‘Sunny’ (one thing a bot must have is a cutesy name) to help calculate the savings and benefits of going solar.

Sunny, said solarcity, ‘delivers a unique digital service so homeowners no longer have to take time off work to see if their home is suitable for solar and hours on the phone to see how much their roof could save them’.

There’s clever stuff going on in the background, apparently. Sunny combines the eye-in-the-sky images behind Google Earth, GIS data from across city councils with NIWA data on local weather patterns, along with local energy prices and proprietary algorithms to arrive at the savings consumers can make from day one.

“At Trade Me we believe solar energy is the way of the future for New Zealand. So, when we realised Sunny’s ability to help Kiwis work out the savings and benefits of switching to solar, we jumped on board,” said Trade Me’s Josh Borthwick. He’s got a great job title, too: Sustainability Champ.

“Sizing up the possible pros and cons of solar can be a hassle, but solarcity’s Sunny chatbot removes the need for a site evaluation or complex calculator to tell you if your home is suitable,” added solarcity CEO, and ex-Greenpeace International Director, Andrew Booth.

So, off to Sunny we duly went to test drive the system. For starters, you’re not confronted by Sunny, but instead some sort of competition. Scroll down…more….more…ah, there it is.

And off kicks a rather tedious process which feels more like a marketing schpiel than anything else. At least with Sunny, there was some sort of result – turns out a house in Whakatane, apparently the sunniest spot in all New Zealand, with a generously proportioned slightly angled roof facing east on one plane, west on the other, is not ready for the bright side of solar life.

It is, of course, too soon to sneer of chatbots. The technology is in its infancy and like most brand new shiny tech innovations, it will have more kinks to iron out. But right now, here’s our assessment:


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