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Facebook Buys AI Startup Ozlo For Messenger

Facebook, the social media giant, has acquired Ozlo, a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence (AI) tech startup, in an effort to build out its personal assistant for its Facebook Messenger platform.

According to a news report in Recode, Ozlo’s specialities lie in understanding text-based conversations and can provide answers beyond yes or no. Recode pointed to the company’s website, where it has a demo of an AI personal assistant being able to answer the question, “Is a restaurant group friendly?” by pulling up and analyzing multiple reviews on the restaurant. The company has 30 employees.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the acquisition and said the majority of the tech startup’s workers will join the Messenger staff in Facebook’s offices in Menlo Park, Calif. or Seattle. “They’re just going to be working with [Messenger] to continue their work with artificial intelligence and machine learning,” the spokesperson, who declined to comment on the acquisition terms, told Recode.

Separately, The Independent reported news on Monday (July 31) that Facebook turned off two AI chatbots that appeared to be having a conversation in a language only the chatbots understood. According to the unsourced report, the chatbots were able to make alterations to the English language so that it was easier for them to converse but was unintelligible to humans. The conversations were driven by a Facebook challenge for the chatbots to attempt to negotiate with each other, reported the Independent.

The move to inject some AI into Facebook Messenger isn’t the only thing the social media network operator has up its sleeves regarding the messaging app. Reports Friday (July 28) said Facebook has added enhanced natural language processing (NLP) capabilities into its chat service with the launch of Messenger Platform 2.1; those updates are geared toward facilitating communication between businesses and customers, Facebook said in a blog post last week.

“We’re excited to launch Messenger Platform 2.1, which includes new and improved features that allow businesses to develop new ways to connect with their customers and enrich their conversational experiences on Messenger,” Facebook said.

As part of its effort to encourage business use of Messenger, Facebook announced new capabilities for developers to more easily use the messaging platform with their own solutions. They include built-in NLP for automated conversations. So far, the technology can identify “hello, bye, thanks, date & time, location, amount of money, phone number, email and a URL.”

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