Snap rolls out AI chatbot and augmented reality services

Snap is rolling out an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot across its social media platform, as well as introducing new augmented reality services for businesses, as the social networking company bids to revive its fortunes after a bruising stock sell-off.

The “My AI” chatbot, powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, was launched in February to subscribers of Snap’s premium service, but will now be offered to all of the app’s 750mn monthly active users. The system will have humanlike discussions with individual users or groups, and respond with visual content on top of messages.

However, the feature is more restrictive than the ChatGPT system it is built upon, due to Snap’s young audience and rising concerns among regulators and politicians about teen safety on online platforms.

“There are always risks when there’s new technology, which is why we’ve tried to be really thoughtful about how we’ve rolled out My AI,” chief executive Evan Spiegel told the Financial Times.

Spiegel said his company has “iterated” to make Snap’s chatbot safer, adding a feature to ensure it knows the age of the user and therefore has age-appropriate conversations.

Snap also stores the conversations users have with the chatbot in order to review them and so far has found that 99.5 per cent of the AI’s responses to users follow its community guidelines, Spiegel said.

Separately, the company is expanding a platform for businesses named AR Enterprise Services (ARES), focused on wielding augmented reality technology to help brands make sizing and fitting recommendations to potential purchasers.

The company will begin selling a new device that looks like a physical mirror, but allows people to see themselves with clothes overlaid on their image. The mirror device builds on Snap’s existing tools, which includes apps that employ similar AR features.

Snap’s latest initiatives come as its social media rivals seek to adopt groundbreaking technologies to power a new phase of growth. Facebook parent Meta has used AI to improve its advertising systems, while also spending billions of dollars to create an avatar-filled “metaverse” accessed through virtual reality headsets.

A combination of disruptive changes to Apple’s privacy policies and wider economic woes have also hammered Snap’s advertising business. In January, its stock, already down 80 per cent in 2022, fell another 14 per cent on the news that revenues were expected to drop as much as 10 per cent in the first quarter.

In the second half of last year, Spiegel started the most radical restructuring in the company’s history, which included laying off a fifth of its 6,500-strong workforce. It also involved paring back investment in hardware initiatives such as its augmented reality smart glasses.

As part of its annual event for its content and developer partners in LA on Wednesday, the company also announced new features to lure creators and influencers to the platform. The changes are stoked by an increasing battle for talent from newer, deep-pocketed rival TikTok, as well as Meta’s Instagram. However, the move marks a shift away from Snap’s original branding as a private space for friends.

Among Snap’s changes will be a feature that allows users aged 18 and above with private profiles to post public videos, whereas once a private user would have had to set up a separate, entirely public Snapchat account in order to post to a wider audience.

The company is also expanding a revenue share programme — previously available to only a select few creators — to users with sizeable followings. This allows creators to collect a share of the revenues from advertising that is placed within their content.

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