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Facebook Businesses Are Developing Robots to Chat With You in Messenger

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Facebook’s annual developers’ conference, F8, starts up tomorrow. What will developers be bringing to the table this year? Chatbots. Lots and lots of chatbots. Get ready for Facebook businesses to invent robots to talk to you!

Specifically, Facebook businesses want to use the Messenger app to introduce more customer service robots into your life. Forbes reports that lots of businesses plan to implement chatbots on their Facebook pages; right now, about two dozen Facebook businesses have already begun to make use of automated customer service robots. At this week’s conference, however, many more businesses will join the trend of using Facebook messenger for this purpose.

Don’t worry, it’ll still be (painfully) obvious when you’re talking to a robot rather than a human. Facebook will be releasing tools for developers to create chatbots within the Messenger system, but most of the chatbots that businesses have created so far don’t stray beyond the basic menu-format responses. The Bauer Cafe Facebook bot, for example, takes drink orders and even lets you pay via Messenger. Aside from the usual robotic pleasantries, that conversation is completely devoid of small talk.

As for whether these bots will benefit businesses or not, well, that depends on whether people are willing to order their coffee from a robot. Based on how many other transactions have gotten outsourced to robots, it seems likely that chatbots will continue to pop up in all of the virtual spaces where we hang out with our peers. Slack recently introduced the “Taco Bot” to help facilitate food orders, and Twitter has been a bot-friendly space for years now. But, of course, we only like these virtual assistants when we’re the ones who initiate the conversation; any time a robot talks to you first, they seem like a creepy spammer. The only real difference between a chatbot and a spambot is that the latter is annoying.

I predict that businesses will continue to create bots that unwittingly irritate us, but that doesn’t mean all chatbots have to be corporation-born. If Facebook businesses have access to the tools needed to create chatbots in Messenger, that means that internet artists will also have the tools to create bots in this format. That means there could be potential for creating choose-your-own adventures within the Facebook messenger space, or other forms of AI that go beyond the advertising realm. If we’re going to surround ourselves with robots, we may as well give them the ability to socialize.

(via Forbes, image via Flickr)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).