In Brief

Facebook launches intelligent 'chatbots'

Businesses set to ditch call centres in favour of smart interactive software

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced plans to open up its Messenger app to developers so that they can create so-called "chatbots" at the firm's F8 developer conference in San Francisco.

The chatbots will attempt to simulate real conversations on Facebook's Messenger platform for companies hoping to communicate with their customers. It's all part of Facebook hoping to "expand its reach in customer service and enterprise transactions", says Reuters.

According to Facebook, advances in artificial intelligence have resulted in bots far more capable of assuming a "key role in the way customers communicate with businesses".

Launching the service yesterday with a handful of partners, Facebook hopes to turn its Messenger app into the go-to place for consumers to contact businesses. The strategy could be good news for consumers fed up with time-consuming phone calls, but may bad news for workers as it "threatens traditional call centres and may cut personnel costs for some businesses."

According to the BBC, the conversations users will have with the bots in the early days will be structured rigidly, with the messenger bots prompting users with possible responses and things to say, but the goal is for the software to develop into something resembling "natural conversation" as quickly as possible.

Developers will be free to create their own bots, but they will all be powered by Facebook's Bot Engine – a centralised system which over time should get 'smarter' and more capable of providing natural-sounding responses to users' questions, meaning that collectively, every bot will improve. Given that over 900 million people use Facebook Messenger every month, the bots potentially have access to a huge pool of data.

The platform is more than just a consumer-to-business interface though, Facebook has plans for the service to provide automated subscription content too, such as weather and traffic updates, as well as personalised communications like receipts and delivery notifications.

The Guardian says that the move is "as much about making money as being social", and that if businesses use Facebook to sell more, in turn Facebook can make more money from them.

Customers will have to opt in to enable any company's bot, and for now, companies aren't allowed to use them purely for advertising purposes.

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