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US: Facebook buys Chatbot startup for Libra support

 |  September 23, 2019

Israel-based hybrid chatbot startup Servicefriend was acquired by Facebook to build customer service bots for its planned digital wallet Calibra, reports said on Saturday, September 21. 

Servicefriend was launched in 2015 by co-founders Ido Arad and Shahar Ben Ami to offer customer service using hybrid artificial intelligence (AI) bots.

Facebook’s acquisition of Servicefriend is expected to help the social media giant roll out its cryptocurrency Libra in 2020. Startup Servicefriend builds bots to facilitate customer service using AI messaging apps. 

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson told reporters.

Israel released the information following investor Roberto Singler’s comments about the deal to local news outlet The Marker. Co-founders Arad and Ami were among others that confirmed Servicefriends is now on board with Facebook’s Calibra. 

“We are here for you,” Calibra stated on its homepage, pledging 24/7 support on WhatsApp and Messenger.

Facebook stated in February that it was looking to create its own chips to deliver the type of computing speeds necessary to take the next leap forward in AI. It also wants to develop a digital assistant similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa that can have conversations with users.

Bots have not been easy for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015. In 2016, bots let users talk to businesses on Messenger. Nothing really worked as well as promised, though, and in some cases the results were substantially worse than those of the services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become a model for how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, most people in the customer service field believe that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams. Though the company is working with chip companies like Intel, it is not ruling out the possibility of developing its own.

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