Prepare for the invasion of the chatbots.
Facebook just released new tools that will let any business build “smart” chatbots that users can interact with and even purchase things from while using the Messenger app.
But what about Facebook’s own super-smart virtual assistant, M?
The bot, which Facebook first introduced to the world in the Fall, got few on-stage mentions during the company’s F8 developer conference on Tuesday.
And the third-party chatbots that Facebook now wants outside businesses to create might seem to obviate the need for Facebook to maintain its own bot.
But Facebook told Business Insider that the company has not given up on M, even if the bot is still “a long way” from being broadly released.
Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for messaging at Facebook, assures Business Insider that the company does still foresee M as being its own product.
“The capabilities of M are way beyond the capabilities that you can build with a simple bot,” he says. “On M, we’re working on automating as many capabilities as possible.”
A super-networking, alpha-bot
Facebook launched a test version of M last fall as a Messenger-based, human-assisted artificial intelligence bot that could help users do everything — from booking a date with their spouse to buying flights for their vacation.
Facebook is now letting other businesses use some of the same tools that it has created to develop M. That will help companies make their bots smarter. But each of those chatbots will still only focus on functions specific to their business.
“On M, we’re trying to focus on everything,” he says.
While Facebook is experimenting with “a gazillion different things” Chudnovsky said that M could eventually integrate with other bots, acting as a kind of super-networker between them. For example, if M was helping you plan a vacation, it could talk you through dates and destinations, but then shoot you over to an airline’s bot to actually close the loop on a purchase.
“We’re automating more and more”
Right now, M is still only available to a “few thousand” users in Northern California and there are a “few dozen” people working behind the scenes. That’s the same, vague number of so-called trainers that Facebook said it had when only a few hundred people were using M.
“We keep increasing the size of the dataset — the roll-out is getting broader every day, and all of that’s happening while the number of trainers stays the same,” Chudnovsky says. “We’re not expanding the human presence. From there, you can derive that we’re automating more and more.”
Despite all the progress though, don’t expect to get your invite to try M anytime soon.
“We have a long way to go to automate as much as we’d like to automate in order to open it up to everyone,” he says. “So, that’s not happening any time soon.”