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Facebook today heralded the promise of chatbots, while also acknowledging that the much-hyped technology is still in its infancy.

Speaking to investors after its quarterly earning announcement, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg described bots as a way to increase the speed and efficacy of interactions between users and businesses on the Messenger platform. For instance, people already message businesses via their pages on Facebook, but need to wait for a reply — what Zuckerberg described as “latency.”

“We can look at responses businesses give and automate them [with bots] to help decrease latency” between query and answer, Zuckerberg said.

To accomplish this, Zuckerberg sees artificial intelligence as playing a central role in harvesting and mining the conversations between businesses and Messenger’s 900 million monthly active users. “We’re going to build AI to help automate responses” for users, he said.

COO Sheryl Sandberg described this benefit further, explaining that the company is following and improving upon behavior already taking place on its messaging platform. “Businesses and consumers are using Messenger to connect to each other in a more personal and more immediate way.”

Sandberg cited the bot technology announced at F8 earlier this month as underpinning this effort. “Bots, [while still] very early, but giving the opportunity for more personal interactions between businesses and people.” She referenced the beta launch of Bot Engine, which will help developers teach bots how to answer questions, and the new Send/Receive API tool. “The Send/Receive API [is] so that businesses can send immediate responses to common questions including engaging images and calls-to-action, as well as text.”

The question, of course, is how soon will bots become commonplace.

For many people, the earliest bots are not fulfilling their promise yet. Sandberg acknowledged that Facebook’s bots are still a fledgling technology. “In terms of timing,” she said, “this is really early.”


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