Hugging Face, a company named after the hugging face emoji, is bringing its AI bot from private to public beta today and is now available in the iOS App Store.
Hugging Face doesn’t want to sell products or connect you to services, cofounder Clément Delangue told VentureBeat in an interview.
It isn’t a productivity bot or SAAS or CRM. It has no plans to sell services, add events to your calendar, or control IoT devices.
Its entire purpose is to be fun.
“We really have this vision where we think everyone will have an AI friend and everyone will discuss things every day with Hugging Face, so that’s really what we’re focused on right now and for the next few years,” Delangue said.
Hugging Face’s goal is to be a personalized AI-powered chatbot that entertains and grows a relationship, like a pet or Tamagotchi eggs.
“Maybe the same way like pets, we’re really seeing users connect with their AI and become friends with their AI; it’s kind of like this new form of friendship between humans and AIs,” Delangue said.
“Basically we started a year ago with this goal of not building a useful AI or building a productivity AI but building an AI that is fun to chat with. We really focus on the entertainment aspect of it, the emotional aspect of it,” Delangue said.
The bot analyzes your tone and words usage to decide what current affairs it may chat about or what GIFs to send you. It has also exchanged 50,000 selfies with users.
With time, Delangue says he wants Hugging Face to do things like talk more extensively about your hobbies or favorite sports teams.
Hugging Face is built to be as chatty as you are, so the more messages you send, the more it will send you.
Other forms of entertainment bots include episodic or character bots. In experiments by the startup Imperson last summer, a Miss Piggy chatbot spoke with her fans in three episodes, culminating with a Land’s End Festival episode. Sequel makes bots to bring you on an investigation with a detective or chat with Justin Bieber. The entire bot strategy of startup Blend centers around bots who imitate celebrities.
But the benchmark of success for conversational bots like Hugging Face, Delangue said, is Xiaoice, a bot built by Microsoft that still draws tens of millions of visitors a month in China. The entire line of bots built directly after Xiaoice — from Rinna in Japan, to the epic, racist fail that was Tay, to Zoe now — are all bots built to be good conversationalists.
In six months of private beta testing with thousands of users, Hugging Face says it’s able to draw 50 interactions a day, mostly from teens (ages 13 to 20). During that beta, the team discovered that in order to retain users, fun had to take importance over the bot accurately answering your question.
“At some point we made the mistake of trying to optimize for accuracy and making it smarter, but then we realized we made a mistake because it was not increasing retention rate,” he said. “For entertaining or fun bots, retention rates are not correlated with how accurate the answers are.”
Hugging Face is based in New York and has five employees. The company has raised $1.2 million from SV Angel, Betaworks, and NBA star Kevin Durant.