Having Artificial Intelligence at Your Fingertips Just Got a Whole Lot Closer (Video)

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Heads of a certain age may remember SmarterChild. He (or she) was a computer-controlled “buddy” that would appear on one’s AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) contact list, and who could interact with users, albeit on a very rudimentary level (think Siri, only in text form). A “chatterbot” by technical definition, SmarterChild could tell you about the weather, the latest news, sports scores, and much more. Eventually, AIM went the way of the fax machine, and society grew more reliant on texting for instant communication with friends and colleagues. Shortly thereafter, the advent of social media once again brought online chatting back into the foray, and now Facebook Messenger has come to dominate the instant-messaging realm. So much so, in fact, that users are forced to download the Messenger app if they want to send and receive messages through Facebook, leading many to boycott the service altogether. Those who’ve stuck with it, however, very often rely on the service to stay in touch with friends on the go, even if they’re not actively using Facebook. Now, Facebook Messenger users may have even more of a reason to rely on the app, and SmarterChild’s forward-thinking nature will once again make an appearance in our daily lives.

In a recently published article on CNNMoney titled “Hello, bot: Facebook Messenger wants to become your one-stop shop,” a new initiative at the social-media giant is introduced – although the concepts therein are familiar. At its annual conference for developers, Facebook unveiled the idea behind and plans for Bots for Messenger, and update to its already ubiquitous Messenger app that will allow users to “get everything from weather updates to shopping notifications to personalized news from a range of companies including CNN.” That part may not sound too different from what SmarterChild was doing in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, but Bots for Messenger will indeed take the chatterbox method a step further. “[Eventually, bots will be] able to handle very administrative tasks in a very easy way — reservations, hotels, banking — as AI is able to anticipate needs and proactively talk to you, it’ll get more exciting,” HP’s innovation manager David Parry told CNNMoney. HP is one of the many companies who’ve signed on to incorporate Bots into its business model by allowing it to let users “print a photo by sending it to the company’s printing bot on Messenger. Once a user sends a photo, the bot responds conversationally (i.e. ‘Hey, nice photo,’) and gives printing options. Users can connect to their personal printers or send photos to locations around the world.”

While printing photos may not be the world-changing task that we think of when envisioning artificial intelligence’s potential role in our daily lives, Bots is only a harbinger of where the technology could go some day. While today we may only be able to ask chatterbots things like “what are symptoms of an ear infection?,” perhaps someday we might be able to use them to order deliveries of medication. Even more provocative, perhaps some day artificial intelligence will become so intuitive that Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her may one day represent actual life. But, even with all that potential, the fact remains that using an instant messenger to get the most recent NBA scores isn’t that impressive. After all, we’ve already got the World-Wide Web at our fingertips at any given point in time. Is there really room for AI in IM?

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