Facebook wants you to be chattier with new chatbots

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the next decade, Facebook will continue to focus on connecting people around the world, and it will do so by using artificial intelligence, virtual reality and chatbots.

That's the message from Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, speaking at the company's F8 developer conference today.

"We are building the technology to give everyone the power to share anything they want with everyone else," Zuckerberg said to an enthusiastic audience of about 8,000 developers, analysts and news media. "The path forward is to connect. That's how we make progress together."

In one of the most anticipated announcements, Zuckerberg took the wraps off chatbots and said he hopes the technology will change the way businesses connect with their customers and how people communicate in general on the Internet.

Chatbots are programs that largely use artificial intelligence to simulate conversations with humans. The technology will be included in the company's Messenger app, though analysts expect it to be built into Facebook's search service, as well.

"How do you communicate with business" Zuckerberg asked during his keynote. "You probably interact with dozens of businesses every day and some are probably pretty meaningful to you. But who likes calling a business And you shouldn't have to install a new app for each business you deal with. There's got to be a better way."

Facebook's A.I.-powered chatbots are designed to make it seem as if the user is connecting with a person in a natural conversation.

For instance, Zuckerberg noted that CNN will be using a chatbot to send readers a daily digest of stories that of interest to them. The stories will arrive in Messenger, and as people use the chatbot, the program will get smarter and deliver news stories even more pinpointed to the user's interests.

He said 1-800 Flowers will be one of the first businesses to use Facebook's Messenger chatbots.

"if you want to send flowers, you don't have to install a new app or enter your credit card again. You just send a message," Zuckerberg said. "Now to order from 1-800 Flowers, you never have to call 1-800 Flowers again,."

Facebook's CEO also touched on a topic the company has been spearheading for several years – worldwide Internet connectivity.

Zuckerberg said there are three main reasons that people don't have access to the Internet, regardless of where they live. About 1 billion people don't have access because they don't live near a network, another because they can't afford it, and still 2 billion people don't have access because they don't understand why it would be worth the effort and expense.

To get more people connected, Facebook is working on ways to make networks cheaper, to build apps that use less data and to bring connectivity to remote areas. For instance, the company is set to launch its first satellite in a few months to connect Sub-Saharan Africa.

As for A.I., Zuckerberg said Facebook wants to share its advances with other developers to help propel the technology forward.

"What's so exciting about A.I. today is that researchers are using a lot of the same technology we are using. Astronomers are finding new planets, Scientists are diagnosing diseases … We want to make it easier for you all to take advantage of all the advances we're making in A.I. When your A.I. systems get 10 times better, you can be 10 times better at diagnosing diseases. This way we can all make faster progress together."

Virtual reality also is a big research area for Facebook.

According to Zuckerberg, since the company started shipping the Gear VR late last year, hundreds of apps have been built for the platform and users have watched more than 200 million hours of video on it.

"Eventually, we'll have what look like normal-looking glasses that can give you virtual and augmented realty, overlaying images," he explained. "A lot of things we think about as physical objects, like a TV to display an image, will just be a one-dollar app that you use with your glasses."


Sharon Gaudin

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