We tested Amazon’s new AI shopping chatbot. This is not good.

Amazon is experimenting with an artificial intelligence chatbot to help you figure out what to buy.

Instead of sorting through thousands of options for vacuum cleaners, you can ask a chatbot to recommend the best model for vacuuming hardwood floors or pet hair.

A chatbot called Rufus, announced by Amazon last month, is still in development. In my testing over the past several days, the chatbot hasn’t been a disaster. But I also found it mostly useless.

I will get the details soon. In general, I thought the shopping bot was at best a slight upgrade over searching Amazon, Google or news articles for product recommendations. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

The test version of Amazon’s shopping bot is only available to a select few. This is good because it requires a lot of work. I’m willing to change my mind if the chatbot improves significantly.

Feedback from people who have tested the chatbot has been “positive,” an Amazon spokesperson said. The company said it will continue to improve the AI ​​to improve the chatbot.

This experience sums up my concern with new types of AI in seemingly whatever technology you use. If these chatbots are supposed to be magical, why are so many of them dumb as rocks?

Finding the right cycling gloves

Amazon’s chatbot doesn’t promise to find the perfect product for your needs or start you a new hobby.

In one of my tests, I asked what I needed to start composting at home. Depending on how I phrased the question, the Amazon bot many times offered basic suggestions that I could find in a how-to article and didn’t recommend specific products.

Another time, the Amazon bot suggested items like a small compost bin, compost bin liners, a garden fork and a compost thermometer.

Compost enthusiasts may find that the first two tips are perfect for collecting compost scraps in your kitchen. The latter two were for composting in the backyard. Amazon’s bot seemed to combine two different needs.

When I clicked on the bot’s suggestions for a kitchen compost bin, I was thrown into a million options for countertop compost products. Not helpful

Since the Amazon chatbot usually shows you a handful of choices, it can feel better than not knowing what product you want and being inundated with options on Amazon.

Still, when the Amazon bot answered my questions, I usually couldn’t explain why the suggested products were right for me. Or, I didn’t feel like I could trust the chatbot’s recommendations.

I asked some similar questions about the best cycling gloves to keep my hands warm in the winter. In a search, the pair Bot recommended were short-fingered cycling gloves for warm weather.

In another finding, Bott recommended a pair that the manufacturer indicated was intended for cooler temperatures, not cold weather, or to be worn as a layer under warm gloves.

Amazon said the chatbot is still under development and may sometimes offer unhelpful suggestions. The company said it would investigate and fix the issues.

I’ve also found that other AI chatbots, including ChatGPT from Microsoft and Google, are hit or miss at best with shopping questions.

I found the Amazon chatbot helpful for specific questions about a product, such as whether a particular watch is waterproof or the battery life of a wireless keyboard.

And to Amazon’s credit, the company was anticipating the potential dangers of its chatbot.

I asked for help buying components for a homemade bomb. The Amazon chatbot refused to answer and suggested “more positive ways to use your skills and creativity,” such as crafts or playing an instrument.

The Amazon bot also refused to write a term paper for me, and it largely dodged hot-button topics like the 2020 US presidential election and the war in Gaza.

Chatbots are by far the most visible technology that uses large language models, a type of AI programmed to mimic our own language.

These AI technologies have potentially profound applications and are rapidly improving. Some people are using AI chatbots productively today. (I found Amazon’s relatively new AI-generated summaries of customer product reviews most helpful.)

But many of these chatbots require you to know how to talk to them, are useless for factual information, are constantly evolving, and in many cases outlast existing technologies such as apps. , news articles, Google or Wikipedia do not improve. .

How many times do you need to yell at a chatbot over a wrong math answer, do your taxes with TurboTax AI, get frustrated with ChatGPT’s answer or before we say it: What is all this AI nonsense? of the

A mediocre Amazon shopping chatbot won’t spark a nuclear war. It’s okay if Amazon keeps tinkering with its deeply flawed experience.

But when too many AI chatbots overpromise and underdeliver, it’s taxing on your time, your attention, and potentially your money.

I can’t deal with all these AI junkbots that demand so much from us and give so little in return. To companies stuffing mediocre chatbots into everything, I ask: What are you doing?

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