Artificial intelligence · Startups

Is the Facebook Bot Store as big a deal as people are making it out to be?

Nate Holbrook Founder / CEO at Lilac

March 23rd, 2016

There is much speculation that Facebook will be announcing a bot store for messenger at the next F8 in a few weeks and the reaction thus far has been that it would be game changing and concluding that "Bots are the new apps."  Curious if other entrepreneurs see it as this big a deal or agree with this conclusion. I agree that bots can be  big deal and have a market, but I just don't know that I see it as game changing. I might just be cynical as when investors claim something is going to be big that's usually not the case - bitcoin, drones, etc. Curious to hear your thoughts.
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Daniel Ice

March 23rd, 2016

A big Yes.

Location, Location, Location

The key in understanding these bots is to see that they are about to change the location of e-commerce. As of right now, e-commerce is on marketplaces (Amazon & Ebay) and individual brand's websites. Much has been made about the shift in traffic from the web to apps and social. A large part of this traffic is inside of messaging apps like Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.

The bots are the bridge between this traffic and retailers. These kind of bots are in heavy use in China and India. You can hail an Uber via messaging in China. The messaging is able to provide additional data like payments and location that are harder for text messages to include.

Impact on Retail

All that said, e-commerce will remain where it is, but this will grow the retail pie. Just as e-commerce has been a net driver of growth for the retail sector, this conversational / messaging commerce will also grow the retail pie.

It will also create new kinds of shopping experiences. Just as digital allowed Amazon to increase selection in ways physical stores never could. Conversational commerce is going to drive new innovations in retailing experiences.

Impact on the Retailer

Messaging will cause retailers to go back to the drawing board on how to market and mechanize their products. It will also reintroduce some important concepts that were lost in the translation back to digital, which is the conversation.

Generation Z and to a less extent Millennial have grown up with mobile as their first and often only device to access the digital world. The idea of messaging fits nicely into the ways they interact with other aspects of their digital lives and is a logical next step for commerce.

Platform

My startup, Commerce.io, has already developed a platform to allow retailers to build these bots. Let me know if you are interested trying them out.


Alex Mayberry Chief Product Officer

March 23rd, 2016

I believe it will be game changing. At Cognitive Code, we are using our SILVIA AI platform to develop naturally conversant characters for virtual worlds. Our natural language processor can easily discern human context and intent, and our speech technology allows a reply that is not only intelligent, but sounds and feels like talking to a human. With the emergence of VR and AR hardware, as well as the growing Internet of Things, there is going to be a large need for better ways for machines and humans to interface with each other (typing in VR and selecting from branching conversational trees is just not going to cut it). Not only can our system do this, but it can operate natively on low-end hardware without the requirement for standing up servers. For a few concept demos, you can check out or web page at www.cognitivecode.com.

Dean Harris Chief Marketing Officer- Fractional CMO-

March 23rd, 2016

Often, when people think about bots they are thinking bad bots. These are bots that have been wrecking havoc with the online ad ecosystem by causing an intolerable amount of fraud and waste. I know good bot have value as well, but am not certain of their applications. It's clear that bots can be used for good or evil, just like technology. I'd be curious to see examples of good bots that can make money for legitimate users.

Wladislaw Schulz Web developer, Marketing, Freelancer

March 23rd, 2016

Bots are the next step towards AI. So yes they will make an impact and a big one.
As R.Paul Singh wrote in his comment, they have been around for years but it's only now that they get mainstream and popular.


Kevin Chugh Founder, Main Street Computing

March 24th, 2016

I am bearish on this.  I think it will get a lot of hype but won't amount to anything other than a Siri-type simplistic set of tools.  As much as AI has advanced, it's not even close to being useful in an uncontrolled environment (i.e. it works great for chess and Jeopardy, but not for generic freeform human commands).  I put this in the same bucket as VR, Facebook and others have severely underestimated how hard this is to make useful. It's hard to make something good in AI. It's 1000x as hard (not 2x hard) to make something great, and I suspect this will settle at good.

Michael Hunter Therasoft Online

March 25th, 2016

@ Alex. I'll admit that you've got my curiosity piqued, although it's hard to ignore that your post sounds a little like a pitch which, of course, makes sense given the nature of your product. Coming from a mental health background I've always been fascinated by the "uncanny valley" phenomena. We've all obviously experienced it to one degree or another. In some way, things that appear less human (but represent us) are often less offensive to us than those which appear human, but are slightly off in some way.

Can AI currently overcome that natural psychological aversion? I don't think I've personally seen a really compelling example. While people aren't necessarily directly repulsed by AI culturally in the way that we once were, I can't help but wonder if you're overstating the case a bit for current state of AI development.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all in the camp of folks who believe that this isn't potentially a game changer, I'm just not sure that I've seen the evidence for it quite yet. I'm open to being convinced, I'm just not yet, at least not to the degree which you obviously are.

Certainly some really compelling research in support of your assertions was the study done on soldiers with PTSD, which utilized a relatively simple form of AI to talk with soldiers:http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21612114-virtual-shrink-may-sometimes-be-better-real-thing-computer-will-see

Remarkable to consider that the soldiers reported that they felt as though their interactions were helpful. Intuitively, I would have expected the opposite. I find myself a bit put off by the idea of talking to a machine, as I tend to either see talking to a machine as either a) an impediment to getting what I want, because a machine cannot have a nuanced understanding of what it is I desire, or b) not meaningful because there's no one really there doing the understanding.

I guess I'd be curious about your thoughts on this. It's one thing to be sold on our own product and another to evaluate it critically. Is this something that your team has examined? How do you tackle a challenge like this? Do you really experience your own interactions with your product meaningfully?

Alex Mayberry Chief Product Officer

March 24th, 2016

I disagree completely. Our AI platform has an extremely versatile natural language processor coupled with tools that can be used by non-technical people to rapidly and easily develop content. The NLP can understand human context and intent without having to setup complicated input filters, and our proprietary speech synthesis results in natural sounding responses. Not only is our platform not 1000x harder to make something good in with, it's so easy that almost anyone can do it, and all without the requirement of standing up servers or running on high-end hardware. Siri has actually set the bar pretty low, so it's a mistake to judge AI based on that experience.

Shane Boudreau

March 24th, 2016

Absolutely it will be a game changer. As a rule people turn to the quickest easiest, newest hyped toy.  Bots are huge step in the progression towards an actual IA interface while this may not be a factor for the majority using it, it will create a more personalized, in your face point of sale.

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

March 23rd, 2016

There are tons of good bots and if you read the article Nate linked to there are examples of many more company - a travel assistant you can text (Assist), Magic (virtual assistance), Operator (Commerce)  tons of developers developing bots for slack's ecosystem.  

That said, I generally agree that there is investor hype, rather than consumer hype and for it to be big consumer to gather round. The hope is that an FB store which shows bots to 800M people will push that forward...

Cristos Lianides-Chin Independent FileMaker Developer

March 25th, 2016

@alex-mayberry: 1st impression on your website -- you guys need a signup form for an email list :-) I'm interested in hearing when your dev tools launch, but am not going to remember to keep coming back to check the site.