Facebook is bringing bots to Messenger

Facebook is placing its bets on bots. During the companys F8 developer conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network will launch a new set of tools to allow people to build AI chatbots in Facebook Messenger.

The aim is to give customers new ways to communicate with businesses. Users will interact with bots that belong to specific companies as a means of ordering products and services, from food to cinema tickets.

In the example given during the presentation, a user ordered a bunch of flowers via the messaging service. Instead of talking to a human employee or filling out a pre-set form, the user was able to chat conversationally to the florist’s AI bot to say what flowers they wanted and where they should be delivered.  messenger-platform.gif

Facebook is calling the new tool, which encompasses the company’s newest application programming interface (API), its Messaging Platform. This API will allow external developers to build bots for Facebook’s platform, much like previous APIs opened up the creation apps to outside parties – apps such as Farmville.

The bots that end up living on Facebook Messenger will be powered by the company’s Bot Engine – a centralised AI framework that will, in theory, become more intelligent with the more bots and human interactions it facilitates.

The race to break the bot market

Facebook isn’t the only company to go big on bots. Last month, Microsoft announced its own bot platform during it’s annual Built conference. At the time, CEO Satya Nadella declared “bots are the new apps”, which is a not-so-subtle indication of the aim both Microsoft and Facebook have with their bot frameworks – to bring about a change on the web comparable to the one created by Apple with the App Store. 

Then again, the realities of bot adoption aren’t entirely clear. Microsoft’s now-famous millennial AI chatbot, Tay, was intended to publicise the power of bots, but it ended up as a genocidal racist after being bombarded with bigoted messages. How will users react now that individual businesses can pretend to be people?

You can read more about our look at the strange world of Twitter bots here. And, if you’re in London 15-16 April, you can head to Somerset House to watch a range of talks and performances on the aesthetics and politics of bots.

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