Chat bots, drones, AI: Facebook’s grand plan for the next decade

At Facebook’s F8 developer conference on Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the social network’s plans for the next decade and, if you’re even remotely afraid of where tech’s going, they’re unlikely to go down that well.

Having built an ecosystem containing a number of products, it’s fairly clear that Facebook is moving into the technologies section of its life-cycle.

Followers of the social network will already be familiar with some of those technologies, including Facebook’s efforts at using drones and planes to provide internet to underserved areas of the world. They’ll also be aware that the big blue social network has been doing plenty in the AI space.

One announcement from Tuesday’s keynote which will have an immediate impact is the launch of chat bots for Facebook Messenger. Designed for business, the bots are designed to allow businesses to easily send out automatic communications to their customers. And, in the words of the hoodied one himself, allow customers to “send messages to a business like you do with a friend — and get a quick reply without taking your full attention or requiring you to install a new app”.

In an official post, David Marcus, VP of Messaging Products explains that bots can be used for anything, “from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them”.

According to Marcus, developers and businesses can already access the documents that allow them to build bots, but that Facebook will review all submissions before allowing them to go live.

Once a chat bot goes live, businesses won’t be confined to plain text, but will also be able to send messages including interactive bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action. Developers can also set a welcome screen for their threads to set context as well as different controls.

Underlining how serious Facebook is about appealing to businesses, Facebook also announced the launch of a customer matching feature will allow messages that are usually sent through SMS to be sent on Messenger.

At this point ordinary Facebook users are probably cringing at the thought of all the unsolicited messages coming their way. According to the social network, that won’t be a problem, with people able to mute and block communications that they don’t want to receive.

“We are focused on facilitating messages from businesses that provide meaningful value to the people who receive them,” writes Marcus.

More than Messenger

F8 is Facebook’s biggest global showcase, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it launched a whole host of other products on the opening day. Here’s the full rundown:

Live API

Allows developers to build “even more ways for people and publishers to interact and share in real time on Facebook”.

Facebook Surround 360

Noticing the success of 360-degree video, Facebook has designed and built a 3D-360 camera system called Facebook Surround 360 which it says “produces sharp, truly spherical footage in 3D”.

The system includes stitching technology which brings together the video from 17 cameras. Facebook says the design specs and stitching code will be available on GitHub towards the middle of 2016.

Profile Expression Kit:

People can now use third-party apps to create profile videos. The closed beta kicks off today with support for six apps: Boomerang by Instagram, Lollicam, BeautyPlus, Cinemagraph Pro by Flixel, Lollicam, MSQRD, and Vine.

Free Basics Simulator & Demographic Insights

According to Facebook, this tool makes it easier for developers to build for Free Basics with the Free Basics Simulator, which lets them see how their service will appear in the product, and Demographic Insights, which helps them better understand the types of people using their services.

Account Kit

Account Kit, Facebook says, gives people the choice to log into new apps with just their phone number or email address, helping developers grow their apps to new audiences.

Quote Sharing

According to Facebook, “Quote Sharing is new way for people to easily share quotes they find around the web or in apps with their Facebook friends”.

Save Button

Facebook has had made more than a few attempts at a “save-for-later style tool. The Save Button is its latest bid to make it stick. The button lets people save articles, products, videos, and more from around the web into their Saved folder on Facebook, where they can access it later from any device.

Image: Facebook



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