Facebook wants businesses to adopt bots to communicate with their customers on its Messenger service, in the hope that opening up its artificial intelligence tools to companies will transform industries.
The world’s largest social network launched the Messenger platform on Tuesday, with initial partners including Bank of America, online travel service Expedia and Burger King, the fast-food chain, as well as news organisation such as CNN and Business Insider.
David Marcus, Facebook’s head of Messenger, said bots, AI-powered computer systems that can respond to human requests, had the potential to become a “new paradigm” which would create new companies, in the same way that apps, sensors and GPS services led to the rise of ride-hailing apps such as Uber.
“Traditionally in history when things become a lot easier for people, then it transformed industries,” he told the Financial Times at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference in San Francisco. “Maybe what we’re starting to build today will enable companies to build experiences of tomorrow that are a lot easier to use.”
The move comes just weeks after Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella outlined plans to put chatbots at the centre of its future efforts, declaring “bots are the new apps”. Earlier this month, Kik, a Canadian chat app, opened a “bot shop” for apps, where users could find services run by brands such as make-up retailer Sephora.
Facebook Messenger’s 900m monthly users will be able to chat with automated systems to perform simple tasks such as ask for information, submit orders and discuss shipping. They will also be able to communicate with bots run by news organisations, asking for the latest headlines on particular topics, for example.
The social network is betting that people are tiring of downloading a new app for functions they do not use every day and find surfing the mobile web clunky. By deploying bots within Facebook Messenger, people will be able to communicate with companies without having to remember extra usernames and passwords, and with the context of their previous interactions recalled by the software.
Developers looking to create more sophisticated bots with a wider range of functions, can now access Facebook’s Bot Engine, the same technology it is using to develop M, its virtual personal assistant and the company’s long-term bet on artificial intelligence.