While it hasn't enslaved us or taken our jobs yet, artificial intelligence is creeping its way into more aspects of our software and our lives. Messaging products, in particular, have seen a boon in AI-powered tools known as chatbots.
Chatbot, short for chatterbot, refers to a type of computer program that uses an AI method known as natural language processing (NLP) to infer information from a textual dialog it holds with a human user and responds automatically. Messaging app Slack is known for its chatbot and Facebook is developing its "M" personal assistant that does this.
Now, Google reportedly wants a piece of the action. According to a Wall Street Journal article citing "people familiar with the matter," the search giant is readying an AI-powered chat tool that will allow users to ask questions of a bot that will search the web for an answer. However, the report didn't note a product name or a release date for the new service.
Google's previous efforts in the messaging space, Hangouts and Messenger, haven't taken off the way that competitor's tools have—Slack has particular momentum in the enterprise. So, first and foremost, this is a strategic move for Google, which continues to heavily target the enterprise with its cloud-based tools and services.
According to the aforementioned "people familiar with the matter," Google's Nick Fox has been spearheading the project for at least the last year. Google's new service will likely offer a marketplace of subject-specific chatbots, similar to startup 200 Labs, which Google reportedly tried to acquire last year, but was rebuffed by the company. Users will send text message queries which the chatbots will respond to.
Messaging and chat are important to Google in their own right, but the rise of chatbots is another potential threat to Google. Chatbots, especially those embedded in a chat or a project management app, keep users from turning to Google to answer their questions, and Google needs to fight to keep those users. The move would also give Google a new avenue for capturing user data to feed into its advertising business.
The report comes on the heels of an announcement by enterprise messaging giant Slack, which recently expanded its capabilities with Slack Platform. The Slack news was heavily developer-focused, with a new app directory, new AWS Lambda blueprints for building apps in the service, and a new open source framework called Botkit that makes it easier to build bots in Slack. This makes things especially interesting as one of the other potential pieces of Google's new service will be allowing outside developers to build chatbots for the service.
Other competition will come from Facebook, with its AI-powered personal assistant dubbed "M," which is built into its Messenger app. According to a blog post on M by facebook's David Marcus, the service differentiates itself by being able to "complete tasks on your behalf," such as booking appointments, travel, or restaurant reservations. However, it's far too soon to say if the Google service will have comparable features.
With the explosive rise in popularity of products like Slack and HipChat, it's clear that messaging apps are becoming a staple in the enterprise. By adding a competitive product to its lineup, Google could better protect against its Google Apps for Business customers using other messaging services, while at the same time holding on to its reputation as the place to go to get your questions answered.
What do you think?
Can Google make a proper messaging tool to compete with Slack and Facebook? Does this sound like something you would use? Sound off in the comments.
- Google bolsters developer toolkit with new image analysis and machine learning capabilities (TechRepublic)
- The Google Cloud Platform: 10 things you need to know (TechRepublic)
- Google open sources its TensorFlow machine learning system (ZDNet)
- Google Plans New, Smarter Messaging App (The Wall Street Journal)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.