Duolingo just released a new feature on their iOS app called 'Bots'. (In case you don't know it already, Duolingo is a really useful free resource for learning a bunch of different languages in a systematic and structured fashion). Their new Bots feature only works for Spanish, French and German languages/courses at the moment.
Their press release included a sample picture (the first one on the left) suggesting the kind of conversation you might have with their bot.
I tried the app out this afternoon, using the French version as I don't speak Spanish (yet). You can see (the beginning of) my conversation in the second image.
What I hadn't realised (and the press release and the deluge of news articles that recycled said press release didn't help with this) was that the app functions on rails. Which is to say, you can't actually have a free-flowing conversation with the bot. You can't even say "I am sad" in the universe of Duolingo's bots. As you can see from the picture above, triste is "not an accepted word".
Clearly this is early days for the technology. It'll get better, and they'll offer it for the rest of their languages and it'll all be wonderful. (Maybe).
I'll be curious to see how people end up interacting with these bots. There have been some great stories / podcasts on how this kind of thing turns out, like the Radiolab 3-parter or the reporting on Microsoft's 'Tay' bot.
And if chatbots increase, so will ways to speak to computers via voice recognition. Different ways of practicing language are to be welcomed, but, as my brief time with the Duolingo bots suggests, it's early early days...