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Facebook Releases New API to Build Intelligent Bots

Facebook and Microsoft may exist in opposite ends of the IT industry spectrum but their worlds continue to come closer together. In addition to operating among the largest cloud infrastructures in the world, the two companies have overlapping efforts to change the way people communicate, collaborate and share information. Over a period of two weeks both companies have become the latest to step up their focus on bringing artificial intelligence delivered by bots to the mainstream.

At its annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for the world's largest social network. Just as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his top executive team at last month's Build conference introduced a new framework for developers to create and embed intelligent bots into apps that can function as personal digital assistant, Zuckerberg and his team at F8 introduced the company's own effort to deliver bots to Facebook users, among a number of new capabilities outlined at the developer conference.

Coming to the new Facebook Messenger Platform is support for bots, the company announced at F8. Facebook said bots running on Messenger can provide customized messages to users such as automated weather and traffic updates, notifications and specialized content delivery such as receipts. The company's new Messenger Send/Receive API allows not only sending and receiving of basic text messages but images and what Facebook describes as "rich bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action."

The API will be offered to companies that want to deliver these intelligent bots using the Facebook Messenger service. "Developers with the Send/Receive API will be able to build a custom bot in Messenger, providing anything from customer service to rich, interactive experiences such as automated responses or spawning a search," said Deborah Liu, Facebook's VP of product and marketplace in a blog post, which outlines a number of other new tools that have recently been released or are coming soon.

Facebook Product Manager Seth Rosenberg described in a separate blog post how developers can deploy bots to Messenger. Effective immediately businesses and developers can build their apps with the API and then submit them to Facebook for review. "We will gradually accept and approve submissions to ensure the best experiences for everyone on Messenger," Rosenberg stated. "We're putting people first with new guidelines, policies and controls to offer the best interactions we possibly can."

Just as Microsoft's Nadella also announced Redmond's effort to build conversations as a platform, Facebook bots will also support natural language intelligence, Rosenberg noted. Facebook released a new engine "to facilitate more complex conversational experiences, leveraging our learnings," Rosenberg explained. "The wit.ai Bot Engine enables ongoing training of bots using sample conversations. This enables you to create conversational bots that can automatically chat with users. The wit.ai Bot Engine effectively turns natural language into structured data as a simple way to manage context and drive conversations based on your business or app's goals."

Facebook and Microsoft may not be arch rivals but a growing number of their products have somewhat similar use cases. And it wouldn't be surprising if in some way, these two efforts intersect -- or collide.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/14/2016 at 9:14 AM


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