Facebook Messenger ‘chat bots’, live video unveiled: Top 10 key takeaways

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Published: April 14, 2016 11:49:17 AM

To stay in tune with new and emerging mobile Internet lifestyles and to extend its reach beyond online socializing, Facebook announced the way it intends to achieve this major goal – by building artificial-intelligence powered 'bots' in its Messenger application to allow businesses to have software engage in lifelike text exchanges.

facebook, Facebook messenger, Facebook messenger chatbots, Facebook live video, Facebook artificial intelligence, Messenger application, mark zuckerbergFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at the F8 Facebook Developer Conference in San Francisco. (AP/PTI)

To stay in tune with new and emerging mobile Internet lifestyles and to extend its reach beyond online socializing, Facebook has announced the way it intends to achieve this major goal – by building artificial-intelligence powered ‘bots’ in its Messenger application to allow businesses to have software engage in lifelike text exchanges. This will enable users to order flowers, shop for shoes and talk with a variety of businesses by sending them direct text messages. This comes in wake of number of monthly users on Facebook Messenger topping 900 million. “Our goal with artificial intelligence is to build systems that are better than people at perception — seeing, hearing, language and so on,” Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said while laying out a long-term vision for Facebook – the 10-year plan included improvements in artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality. Here are the top 10 key takeaways:

1. What are bots? Chatbots, which are automated programs that help users communicate with businesses and carry out tasks such as online purchases, are an opportunity for Facebook to dominate business-to-person relationships. Bots are software infused with the ability to “learn” from conversations, getting better at figuring out what people are telling them and how best to respond. Facebook hopes that by simulating one-on-one conversations between users and companies it will expand its reach in customer service and enterprise transactions.

2. Facebook is also making it easier for individuals to contact businesses by searching for their bots within Messenger or clicking on an ad in Facebook’s regular news stream. But Vice President David Marcus said the company wants to be careful not to annoy users by filling the Messenger app with unsolicited spam. Mark Zuckerberg said, “We think you should be able to text message a business like you would a friend, and get a quick response.” He added that developers can build bots that could even be better than real people at natural language text conversations.

3. Bots could help Facebook over time monetize its messaging applications and get a start on what some see as a new way of interacting with the digital world, potentially shortcutting mobile applications and sidestepping search

4. Artificial intelligence is already used in Messenger to recognize faces in pictures, suggesting recipients for messages and for filtering out spam texts. “Soon, we are going to be able to do even more,” Zuckerberg added.

5. Zuckerberg promised a future in which Facebook AI would be able to understand what is in pictures, video, or news articles and use those insights to recommend content members of the social network might like.

6. Chatbots expedite Facebook’s moves to build out Messenger as the go-to place for users to contact businesses rather than through third-party websites and 1-800 lines. “You’ll never have to call 1-800-Flowers again,” Mark Zuckerberg.

7. Facebook’s vast trove of user data puts it at a distinct advantage in developing chatbots because they will be able to personalize interactions and shopping suggestions more than existing companies, experts said. “From the enterprise or developer perspective, access to those 1.6 billion people is very exciting,” said Lauren Kunze, principal at Pandorabots, which has been building and deploying chatbots for companies since 2002. “People like a personalized experience and when the chatbot can remember personal details and follow up,” she said.

8. Tech companies will have to approach chatbots more carefully, however, after Microsoft Corps’s bot, Tay, parroted back a barrage of racist and sexist tweets to Twitter users last month.

Mark Zuckerberg also announced during his keynote address Facebook’s live video product, Facebook Live and that it was open to developers to create new features as Facebook seeks to encourage users to share more original content on the site.

9. Facebook Messenger last week rolled out Messenger Codes, allowing users to scan a code to begin a chat with a business and making it easier to carry out transactions and customer service through the app. Facebook said more than 50 million businesses have pages. These features will let Messenger users carry out activities such as making restaurant reservations, placing online orders and scheduling appointments, which Facebook hopes will lead people to spend more time inside the app and increasingly rely on it for day-to-day tasks.

10. Analysts say that underscores the importance for Facebook of adding more features to its growing chat services: It needs to keep people engaged – and continue to learn about their interests for advertising purposes. Mark Zuckerberg is focused on new ways that people can use chat services, live video and even virtual reality technology to communicate. Facebook already has more than 30 companies signed up to deploy chatbots on Messenger, including major corporations like CNN, eBay, Burger King and Bank of America. Facebook is also releasing programming tools that other companies can use to build their own chatbots for Messenger.

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