If Facebook Messenger with 900 million users and more than 11,000 bots has won the most attention as a platform for consumer-oriented bots, then Slack is out front when it comes to business-oriented bots. Speaking today atMobileBeat 2016, the company’s head of platform described how Slack’s desire “to be the place where work happens” has guided its efforts in creating what has become a veritable ecosystem around its bot platform.
“When we think about whats next for Slack, we think about making your life simpler and more productive … so message buttons is really just the beginning,” said Jason Shellen, head of platform at Slack.
Unlike consumer bots which are often one-to-one communications between a customer and a business, bots on Slack are usually collaborative, group conversations. The company reports that 77 of the Fortune 100 companies use Slack, with three million daily active users on the platform an average of more than two hours each weekday. These users have access to more than 500 apps in the Slack directory, and in June the company introduced what it calls buttons, which can trigger an action from connected apps with a single click within Slack.
The company has 13 buttons integrated with apps like those from human resources provider Greenhouse, travel site Kayak, and project management tool Trello. These buttons enable users to perform tasks like track job applicants, book flights, manage expense reports, or create and track task boards with a single tap as part of the normal workday conversations taking place on Slack. The number of buttons will soon increase: a few weeks ago the company released an API so that anyone can build a button.
Shellen explained that the 12 partners who built buttons for the June launch came about through inbound interest and by his team reaching out. Slack’s partners understood that these changes to the user interface — buttons — greatly improved the overall experience with their apps, Shellen said.
Slack’s buttons represent in part an overall trend of technology and data moving outward, ever closer to the user. “We haven’t seen yet just how far does this go?” Shellen said, and suggested that future app and button integrations could include personal health, medical and construction. ‘I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface yet.”
Slack’s focus on collaboration also underpins the ecosystem it is creating with its developer community. This spring, the company publicly released its platform roadmap and announced the creation of an $80 million developer funddesigned to spur the creation of more apps and bots. Starting June 21, anyone can now build buttons thanks to the API.
Looking ahead Shellen expects to see “more daring, more interesting, larger, and more diverse apps” on Slack. But “those that bring actionable data closer to users are my favorite.”
Virtual marketing assistant Kit CRM announced today the launch of its chatbot on Facebook Messenger, making it the third platform it’s available on. The move comes three months since it became one of the first companies to announce an integration with Facebook’s conversational platform. Any of the more than 900 million monthly app users will be able to have access to a virtual employee right at their fingertips.
The idea to bring this marketing assistant to Facebook Messenger enables merchants without marketing support to manage their online marketing promotions on Facebook and Instagram using an interface they’re likely more comfortable with instead of being inundated by ad-serving networks and interfaces.
Founded by Michael Perry, Kit is the producer of an artificial intelligent virtual assistant that previously let you run your e-commerce business through SMS text messages or using Telegram. It was this that appealed to Shopify which acquired Kit in April.
There are more than 3 million businesses on the world’s largest social network today, so Kit breaking into this option provides it considerable reach to help more merchants
Perry, who’s now the director of Kit at Shopify, said the Facebook Messenger integration is a positive move forward because with SMS, it “was challenging to get phone numbers in particular countries. Messenger solves this problem and allows us to bring Kit to merchant accounts.”
The expectation is that once a business signs up with Kit, they can have the A.I. powered assistant handle Facebook and Instagram ads, email marketing, send thank you emails to customers, make updates on a merchant’s Facebook page, and perhaps even more. The company has an developer API to let others build on top of Kit’s skill set.
Although Kit’s chatbot officially makes its debut today, it had been out in the wild for the past month. Perry explained that in that time period, more than 10 percent of all Shopify merchants that used Kit were doing so on Facebook Messenger. “This says a tremendous amount about peoples’ communication preferences and Facebook Messenger’s potential,” he said.
Shopping at Whole Foods Market is about to become much more entertaining.
In addition to browsing for unusual vegetables or gazing at the wide assortment of organic tortilla chips, customers will now be able to tap into a recipe database from their phones and use artificial intelligence to converse with a robot chef.
A new chatbot will let customers browsing through the store find products and then, with a few taps in a Facebook Messenger chatbot, find recipes for an upcoming meal. But it’s more than just a chat with an A.I. agent who knows how to cook. Customers can select an emoji, like a jalapeno or a banana, and then see recipes that involve those products. The chatbot lets customers mix-and-match by typing a word, selecting a cuisine (like Tex Mex), and adding an emoji to the text chat. They can also select keywords and choose recipes for special diets.
It’s exploratory and fun, and shows how chatbots can add to a shopping experience and lead to some interesting results — say, a tamale recipe for vegans.
“We are living in the ‘expectation economy’ where consumers expect to have information at their fingertips, and we want to keep innovating to meet our customers where they are,” said Jeff Jenkins, Global Executive, Digital Strategy and Marketing at Whole Foods Market. “Our goal is to make recipe discovery easy and to help our customers for find new ways to experience the foods they love. Whole Foods Market customers are always looking for inspiration no matter whether they are at home, on the run or walking down our aisles.”
Whole Foods plans to add more features soon, including the ability to link the chatbot to your Whole Foods account, save recipes for later perusal, and sign up for coupons and deals.
Whole Foods demonstrated the chatbot at the MobileBeat 2016 conference this week. Nichele Lindstrom, the Director of Digital Marketing at Whole Foods, showed how the emojis work for finding recipes and how you can add more keywords and search for special diets.
The Whole Foods chatbot was created by Conversable, a company that provides a SaaS platform for creating conversational messaging experiences. You can find the bot on Whole Foods’ Facebook page, or by searching for “Whole Foods” in the messenger app and on the Web.
Chatbots are coming to the last frontier of the travel industry. Booking.com plans to bring artificial intelligence and conversational interfaces to a realm of hospitality that was thought to be the sole domain of humans with local knowledge: destination experiences.
Today at MobileBeat 2016, Booking.com unveiled what it calls Booking Experiences, a service that will help people decide what to do once they arrive at their destination. “The real question [facing a traveler] is what should I do when I get to a destination?” said Anne-Sophie Liduena, VP of product for Booking.com.
The new service will leverage A.I. and machine learning to present personalized recommendations from an exhaustive list of local events and attractions, and enable people to purchase tickets or make reservations from within Booking.com’s mobile app.
“Bots and AI are empowering us to interact with our surroundings,” Liduena said. “We can be provided with highly relevant suggestions to enhance our daily lives.”
Booking Experiences is available July 13, 2016 on both the Android and iOS versions of the Booking.com app for Amsterdam. The pilot launches for Paris, London, and Dubai at the end of July and will go live for New York this fall.
Booking.com has been pressing forward with bots and A.I. over the past year. In February, the company unveiled hotel recommendations tailored to travelers’ passions, and in May it launched a chatbot to connect hotels and travelers.
It’s not alone, however. For instance, in June, Expedia launched its first bot, which is dedicated to booking hotels. And today, also at MobileBeat 2016, newcomer SnapTravel launched with a half-bot, half-human hotel-booking service.
Bookings Experience will use data from the millions of trips made with Booking.com, combine it with travelers’ personal preferences, and then marry it to possible experiences — everything from rock climbing to rock concerts — at each destination. The company is no stranger to data, listing more than 974,000 hotels and accommodations, including more than 474,000 vacation rental properties, covering over 93,000 destinations in 224 countries, and accumulating more than 97 million customer reviews.
Booking.com is betting that its trove of information, and the ability of a bot to continuously learn from its customers, will provide them with the kinds of experiences and city knowledge known only to locals.
Bot maker ManyChat wants to replace email newsletters
ManyChat announced the creation of a paid premium plan for its marketing and engagement bot maker today.
CEO Mikael Yang made the announcement onstage at MobileBeat, a two-day gathering of startups and thought leaders in artificial intelligence and chatbots. Created by VentureBeat, MobileBeat takes places at The Village in San Francisco July 12-13.
ManyChat Pro can send automated messages and use tags for marketing campaigns. It also lets users reach out to more specific audience segments based on engagement levels or other metrics. The service costs $10 a month per every 500 Facebook fans.
Creatives, businesses, and those trying to build a fanbase are the largest use case scenario Yang saw play out on ManyChat, where more than 170,000 Telegram bots have been made since the company was created about a year ago.
ManyChat is not driven by natural language processing but instead relies on buttons and flow charts, and is designed for people with no prior knowledge of code. About a month ago ManyChat was made available on Facebook Messenger, where roughly 2,000 bots have been created so far.
Yang wants people who make ManyChat bots to be able to target their most loyal or engaged users.
Fans who respond in a minute or less, for example, can be invited to a private concert, solicited to share with their favorite horror movie author a picture of a time they overcame a fear, or asked to canvas a neighborhood for a politician.
Update 5:50 p.m. PT: ManyChat later clarified that “we’re doing pulse surveys, we’re doing educational courses and we’re doing tags and segmenting so you can provide that content to specific groups of people, and that’s all fine, but if you want to do deals or ads that is not allowed.”
This step makes Chatfuel’s toolkit more valuable to those who may not have the programming skills, an understanding of A.I., or a good way to import and sync data.
This adds to Chatfuel’s powerful development framework, which already supports a number of helpful features, including buttons that allow users to pick an option when asked and A.I. programming that looks for keywords and interprets the context. As an example of the latter, if a user asks about a “table” and uses the word “reserve,” the bot can determine that the conversation is about making a dinner reservation. Chatfuel’s innovation is in making it possible to accomplish this by selecting from a tree menu rather than by writing code.
Several chatbots created with Chatfuel already use plugins, but the company is now opening up the plugins to any third-party developer.
One of the interesting early examples is an Uber Asia chatbot — which has 5 million likes — that can “onboard” new drivers and provide info for existing drivers. It’s essentially a chatbot that works like a FAQ. The Uber Asia chatbotcan take responses from users and place them into a Google doc using a plugin.
The chatbot for Complex magazine also uses a plugin. “They used RSS feeds, Site Search, and Daily Digest plugins to assemble their bot and connect it to currently existing feeds of data in just a few hours,” said Dmitry Dumik, CEO of Chatfuel, speaking to VentureBeat.
Dumik shared his announcement during the Conversational UI design: Functional Versus Witty panel at MobileBeat 2016, currently taking place in San Francisco.
“Very soon we plan to open plugins to third-party developers, so anyone can contribute their plugins to the community and benefit from the plugins created by others,” said Dumik.
Thousands of chatbots exist in the world today across numerous platforms, but do we really know how well these programs are performing? It’s one thing for developers to launch bots onto messaging apps, but in order to ascertain their effectiveness, there needs to be some way to analyze the results.
Dashbot believes this is an area where it can benefit everyone, and today the company is publicly introducing its analytics platform for chatbots on Facebook Messenger and Slack. In addition, it has also debuted a live human feature, giving companies the ability to interject a human being into a conversation when warranted.
Started by Motally founder Arte Merritt, Bureau of Trade cofounder Dennis Yang, and Mesmo cofounder Jesse Hull, Dashbot is taking on a problem it doesn’t think traditional providers like Adobe or Google will be able to handle. Merritt told VentureBeat in an interview that existing offerings can’t track the necessary metrics — bot analytics require server-side integration, SDKs don’t work, and clickstream and event-based tracking just doesn’t paint a complete picture.
Additionally, with bot makers, the data they want are voice, text, images, locations, and other content, not cookies, user agents, or IP addresses. He explained that by having richer and actionable data, you’ll be able to tell through a user’s own voice what they want from the bot. Should they get frustrated, it’ll be easy to notice quickly and send a human agent to jump into the conversation.
Other notable features of Dashbot include enabling push notifications to re-engage users with the chatbot. When deployed, you can segment your audience based on usage metrics and then send promotions based on activity levels, all managed through Dashbot.
There’s also a testing feature that examines messages sent by the bot’s artificial intelligence to find out which messages should be sent out, optimizing for the best responses and content to be distributed.
Developers can add a couple lines of code to their Facebook Messenger or Slack bot and Dashbot will take care of the rest, analyzing the data in real time. By doing so, Merritt said, you’ll be able to take action right away, which may lead to better opportunities to make money.
Analytics isn’t new to Merritt, as his previous startup focused on mobile tracking. Although there are chatbot analytics providers sprouting up, such as Kochava and BotPages, Merritt said the biggest competitors he sees so far are development teams trying to build something themselves.
Is he worried about Slack or Facebook rolling out analytics, which has been foreseen? Merritt said no. He’s seen in the past that when companies do that, “It might be very basic, and people are using [third-party solutions] to get fuller, richer metrics.”
Although Dashbot currently supports bots on Facebook Messenger and Slack, it also has a generic SDK that’ll work on other messaging platforms. It does intend to develop more specific ones for Line, Telegram, Alexa, and other messengers.
The company counts more than 130 customers since its launch five months ago, including MessinaBot. It’s still working on pricing, but will likely utilize a freemium model where analytics will be free based on usage, while features like the live person takeover, notifications for re-engagement, and A.I. testing will be priced by transaction, which has yet to be determined.
Anyone can use Dashbot, but the core audience are those in the enterprise, like those in the media, travel, entertainment, or local industries.
Stay abreast of the latest news on bots, messaging, and AI from MobileBeat 2016. Read our coverage here.
A bot that automates communication with the customers of one of Japan’s largest delivery companies was debuted by PandoraBots at MobileBeat today. Created by VentureBeat, MobileBeat is a two-day gathering of artificial intelligence and chatbot industry leaders.
In January, Yamato Transport started an official Line chat account. About 10,000 new Line users a day have interacted with the bot since it was launched June 27, said Lauren Kunze of PandoraBots.
The bot was created in cooperation with Yamato Transport, marketing company Hakuhodo, and Line, whose IPO hit stock exchanges in Tokyo and New York Thursday and Tokyo Friday.
Customers can ask the bot questions about the company and change the date, time, or location of a delivery.
PandoraBots, based in Oakland, has helped DIY makers and companies create hundreds of thousands of bots since its first bot-making kits were created in 2002. The company is responsible for bots such as Mitsuku and A.L.I.C.E., the bot that inspired Spike Jonze to create the movie Her. PandoraBots also helped bring to life characters like this Fake Captain Kirk bot, whose responses are based on William Shatner’s lines in old Star Trek scripts.
While some PandoraBots are known for having personality, the Yamato Transport bot focuses on being polite. As bot pioneer Robert Hoffer said earlier in the day at MobileBeat, bots need more than A.I. and NLP.
“Personality doesn’t mean the bot has to have a dramatic backstory or be really sassy or funny. It just should be on brand, like Robert said, it should have soul,” said Kunze.
Domino’s has some new competition when it comes to artificial intelligence and pizza cravings.
Pizza Hut — the largest pizza chain in the world, based on orders and deliveries — today announced a new chatbot that works within Facebook Messenger and on Twitter. It’s part of a massive roll-out the company is calling “social media ordering,” and it’s run mostly by bots.
Baron Concors, chief digital officer at Pizza Hut, demonstrated the chatbot atMobileBeat 2016 during a session on chatbot innovations. The new bot can handle pizza and other food delivery orders from customers who have Pizza Hut accounts, streamlining the process, improving accuracy, and eliminating wait-times.
“The new Pizza Hut social ordering platform is another example of making it easy for our customer to order their favorites from Pizza Hut,” said Concors. “We are constantly pursuing ways to simplify our ordering experience. This platform allows our consumers to quickly order or get information where they are already spending a great deal of their time.”
Customers can also ask questions about their order and inquire about deals and promotions. Concors says the chatbot fulfills a desire to be more user-focused and provides an extra layer of customization and personalization to all orders. There is no extra cost, and the chatbot will offer specialized menu options relevant to the local store. After an order, an email confirmation will let the customer know that everything was handled correctly.
This chatbot is part of a strategy known as “conversational commerce,” something that’s even more viable now that Facebook has announced end-to-end encryption for Messenger. Advances in this area will help usher in the age of chatbots that can even handle complex banking, retail, and customer service transactions. It’s also a sign of how chat is starting to replace the clicking and swiping we do with apps.
Conversable, the company behind the chatbot technology for Pizza Hut, has developed a platform that works within text messaging apps and by voice on Facebook and Twitter. The new chatbots will debut on Facebook Messenger and Twitter in August.
Pizza Hut will be competing against Domino’s, which already lets you order pizza using the Amazon Echo and by text message, among other means.
KFC sort une boite capable de recharger votre smartphone pendant que vous mangez.
Une jeune recrue de la We Are Tennis Fan Academy s’aventure dans les couloirs du Country Hall de Liège et fait une rencontre plus qu’inédite ! Souvenir inoubliable à partager sans modération. #DavisCup #BELCRO
“Pour la petite histoire :le garçon s’appelle Cyril et est venu avec son papa, grand fan de la Davis Cup. Le hasard a fait que l’on a pris le fils d’un fidèle de la We Are Tennis Fan Academy que l’on a déjà interviewé lors de la finale à Gand. “
Réalisation: Havas Socialyse Newsroom with Proudofyou
New forms of social platforms present a new set of challenges for brands – and they can’t afford to duck them
For the best part of a decade, our online social lives have been defined by a handful of giant networks: Facebook, Twitter and (for professional and high-net-worth audiences) LinkedIn. Marketing strategies have therefore focused on capturing attention and driving engagement through these channels. With their mass reach and openness to advertising, they had appeared to make the task of engaging audiences on social media relatively straightforward. But things are changing – and changing fast. As far as marketers are concerned, our social lives are becoming a lot more complicated.
It’s not that the social giants are in decline. Their numbers of active users continue to increase, with 30% of global internet users heading onto Facebook every day. But they no longer define our digital social lives in the way that they once did. The average 16-24-year-old now uses at least five different social platforms each week. And many of the interactions that matter most to them take place on new types of platform, with less obvious roles for brands. This represents a challenge for marketers, but it’s also an important, and very timely, opportunity.
The daily use of mainstream social media is rising at 6% a year – but use of Instant Messaging (IM) platforms is increasing at double that rate. More than half of global internet users are using messaging apps on a daily basis – and this is pushing platforms such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, Snapchat and LINE towards the centre of social experiences. Messaging use may lag behind in the US and UK (35% and 39% respectively), but it dominates in emerging and fast-growth markets from Brazil (73%) to Malaysia (77%) and China (69%). And it’s not just IM that is expanding the social media universe. From Instagram to Vine, people are engaging on a far broader range of platforms that reflect their different needs and interests through very different social experiences.
It’s significant that Facebook itself has moved swiftly into these new social spaces: WhatsApp (owned by Facebook since late 2014) and Facebook Messenger are currently the two largest messaging platforms on earth. Facebook owns Instagram as well. The world’s largest social media player recognises that people are no longer satisfied with expressing themselves in just one way, on one type of network.
Look closely at the IM phenomenon and you’ll find a broad range of user experiences from stripped down to content-rich, but all have the same fundamental appeal at their core. IM enables real-time interaction within small, specific groups that can form, break up and re-form endlessly. Conversations are free to fade over time (the importance of which explains the intense debate about just how long Snapchat conversations are stored for). IM is more intimate, more responsive and less permanent. And it reflects more intuitively the way people have traditionally interacted with one another.
The return of nuanced private lives
To marketers, the sudden fragmentation of the social media landscape can seem disruptive and surprising. But in the context of human relationships, the shift isn’t really that surprising at all. If anything, it’s the last 10 years that have been abnormal.
In the offline world, there are certain, very specific situations in which being included in a large crowd is an important part of the experience: shopping in a marketplace, watching a football match, engaging in a pilgrimage or, on a smaller scale, enjoying a large dinner with extended family. But these situations are relatively rare. The vast majority of our lives aren’t spent shouting personal messages over the heads of very large crowds of people; they are lived more privately, built on interactions with far smaller groups that we shuffle between according to circumstance and need.
Living out more of our life online – but on different terms
The shift towards IM suggests that people want to move more of these offline experiences onto digital platforms; they are just not comfortable moving them onto the likes of Facebook. Messaging apps provide them with opportunities to reflect a more nuanced social reality in the online space. And as those messaging platforms build richer functionality around core messaging, there are more compelling reasons to do so. Users of LINE, which first launched as an emergency response to the Japanese earthquake of 2011, can now play games together, generate and share content, stream music and watch TV – all of which can be plugged seamlessly into their interactions.
More consumers carrying out more of their social lives online ought to represent a significant opportunity for marketers. However, there’s a challenge. The way that brands interact with consumers on Facebook, for example, is partly why large-scale open networks are deemed inappropriate for the more private and personal aspects of people’s lives. Facebook feels like the virtual equivalent of the marketplace, an environment in which we must be happy to be distracted by a host of different voices and different propositions calling for our attention; messaging platforms do not.
Time for a holistic social media strategy
There is still an important role for the marketplace in people’s lives – a space where we seek out new forms of stimulation and can quickly gain a wider sense of what’s going on in the world. Within our newly complicated social lives, the giant, open networks that provide this experience are the natural home for scalable, awareness-building, amplification and engagement campaigns. However, when connected consumers move onto IM platforms, they no longer welcome distractions in the same way. WhatsApp’s ‘no ads’ policy is a significant part of its appeal – and brands must proceed with caution even on platforms that are more open to marketing. People resent unsolicited brand messaging popping into the same space that they use to chat confidentially to close friends and family. When they do invite brands to engage with them, they expect them to behave in a manner that reflects this context. This means that marketers must play by a new set of rules if they want to thrive. We’ve been accustomed to seeing social media as one element within an integrated marketing strategy. Now we need to take a more granular view of the social media space itself – and start adopting integrated social media strategies that reflect the roles that different platforms play.
Getting in touch with humanity
The new rules are defined by the nature of messaging platforms themselves. These platforms deal in human experiences that are intimate, intuitive and relevant to the moment. Success for brands will similarly depend on a more human approach: facilitating dialogue and connection, replying to comments in a way that is worthy of that dialogue, caring about the moments that matter to the audience, and delivering content that is genuinely relevant to those moments. The most successful brands know that such relevance can come through providing tangible value that enhances or simplifies life – but also through the emotional connection that is formed when they align themselves with the right format and tone of voice for a platform.
Taco Bell’s use of Snapchat excels in establishing such a human connection. It embraces risk, experiments with different approaches – and earns respect from consumers for avoiding a bland, corporate tone of voice. Its choice of influencers to enlist for the brand has been appropriate as well: focusing on YouTube and other social media celebrities who have credibility on the platform, rather than conventional star power. The six-second DIY videos posted on Vine by the US home improvement store Lowe’s similarly mixed tangible value with emotional engagement by working within the format of the platform. The result? Lowe’s ninety Vine videos delivered over 33 million views.
Sharing counts more when it’s personal
As social platforms become more personal, the credibility added when content is shared becomes all the more valuable. WeChat Moments, which builds a broader social media experience onto WeChat’s IM platform, provides a powerful amplification opportunity for brands, with any content that a user engages with hugely more likely to appear in the feeds of their friends. The power of personalisation can also be seen in the influence of Instagram, which has grown in value as an earned media opportunity for brands. Instagram provides another environment where sharing amongst a more select network delivers powerful benefits. It was recently claimed (in research commissioned by an Instagram influencer app, Takumi) that 68% of 18-24-year-olds were more likely to purchase an item if someone they followed on Instagram shared it.
Why a more complex social world has more opportunity
Finding the right strategy for more intimate social platforms will become increasingly important as those platforms take on a broader range of roles in consumer lives. Users of WeChat can already browse and buy products (with 10 million WeChat stores opening in the last year alone), order taxis, apply for loans and keep track of their fitness. Facebook Messenger’s AI-powered virtual assistant, launched in September, prompts users with suggestions for where to eat, where to visit and what to buy. As social media becomes more varied, more versatile and more personalised, consumers are far more likely to trust the right social channel to guide their choices. As these new social channels become more sophisticated and seamless, people could increasingly make the journey from awareness through to purchase without ever leaving the platform they are on. Making themselves a part of this environment will require brands to invest in customised approaches, explore more partnerships, be more human and less guarded in their approach, and take more risks. But all the indications are that such effort will be worth it. Our online social lives may be becoming more complex – but adapting to that complexity will be increasingly rewarding.
Anjali Puriis Global Head of TNS Qualitative. Anjali is responsible for developing TNS’s qualitative offer, providing clients with cross-cultural insights, and leading new thinking, particularly in the areas of consumer choices, behaviour change and social media.
Zoë Lawrenceis Marketing & Communications Director, TNS Asia Pacific. A member of the APAC digital board, Zoe has been involved in shaping TNS’s thought leadership around the connected consumer since 2010.
Operator: Your next shopping experience starts with a text
Operator wants to “unlock the 90% of commerce that’s not on the Internet”, CEO Robin Chan tells me. After two years in stealth, Chan was finally willing to give TechCrunch a peek at his startup, which he sees as the convergence of the biggest themes in tech: mobile, messaging, and the on-demand economy.
Operator calls itself a “Request Network”. It’s an app that uses a network of human ‘Operators‘ to fulfill customer requests. It can handle a broad range of commercial requests. For now it’s focused on “high-consideration” purchases that may require expertise or have lots of options to choose from.
Mr Camp co-founded Uber along with Travis Kalanick. Operator does not have any formal agreements in place with the ride-hailing app, but is closely watching the development of UberEverything, Uber’s logistics and delivery service, as a potential partner.
The upcoming holiday season is poised to be the first big test of digital concierge services as consumers turn to Christmas shopping or make reservations. A challenge for traditional mobile commerce has been getting customers to complete the purchase — users often find it too time-consuming or inconvenient to input their credit card number into a webpage on their smartphone, for example — and digital concierges are trying to change this
Facebook’s new virtual assistant for Messenger, M, is pretty darn impressive.
At this point, M can do pretty much everything an actual human assistant might be able to do, short of picking up your dry cleaning. (Although it could arrange to have it delivered!) That’s great news for Facebook. The company is rolling out M as a way to keep people using Messenger and, eventually, get them shopping inside of it. An assistant to make that easier will certainly grease the skids on those efforts.
But there’s actually a simple reason for why M is so advanced. For the most part, M is much more human than it is software. Or rather, it’s powered by actual humans much more than it is by software.
The artificial intelligence technology used to power M is still in a very early stage, which means that while the system is learning some of the basic responses for popular requests, human moderators handle the bulk of the interactions with actual users, according to Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer.
“It’s primarily powered by people,” Schroepfer explained. “But those people are effectively backed up by AIs. The idea here is, you can ask it any question, not just the set of questions that it’s capable of. The thing that’s cool about this is it gives us a much wider training set, like what are the things people actually want it to help them [with].”
In other words, making it human-powered versus machine-powered allows Facebook to get a more authentic glimpse at how people want to use the product.
Right now, Facebook is training M with supervised learning, a process where the computer learns by example from what human trainers teach it. If a user asks A, you respond B. Eventually, the idea is that M will know enough to operate without a human handler. Facebook has a team of people building neural networks — applications that help machines think and act like humans — and many of those applications are already live inside of M, Schroepfer says.
That doesn’t mean that M will fly solo any time soon. The feature is only available to a small group of beta testers in Silicon Valley, and the technology needs to become much less human-dependent before Facebook passes it out more broadly, Schroepfer said.
“The reason this is exciting is it’s scalable,” he added. “We cannot afford to hire operators for the entire world to be their personal assistant.”
Schroepfer also showed off a new tool Facebook is building that can actually describe what’s in a photo, and vocalize it through a verbal Q&A process with a user. So, if you asked Facebook what was in a picture, it could — without ever having seen the picture before — respond correctly, based on other photos it has seen. This tech hasn’t rolled out to users yet, but Schroepfer hopes that someday it will.
These efforts are part of a much broader push from Facebook to dive into artificial intelligence and deep learning as a way to personalize its service. It has one of the world’s top deep learning experts, Yann LeCun, running its AI division; the eight-person team from machine-learning startup Wit.ai, which Facebook acquired in January, is running M. The company won’t say how many operators it’s using for M, but BuzzFeed found that Facebook is using outside services like TaskRabbit to complete some of the requests.