Meta launches AI chatbots for Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp

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Meta is launching artificial intelligence-driven persona chatbots across Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp and giving developers the power to create their own versions of AI assistants, as the US tech giant seeks to drive engagement on its platforms.

At its Connect developer conference on Wednesday, Meta unveiled an AI assistant that will be able to search for answers to users’ questions through a partnership with Microsoft’s Bing, as well as AI image generation.

Users of Meta’s platforms will also be able to interact with 28 chatbots that take on characters played by celebrities, who have agreed to have their voice and likeness used in the feature. Cook Roy Choi voices a sous chef called Max who will be able to generate recipes from a list of ingredients entered into the system, and a Dungeon Master played by US rapper Snoop Dogg will talk you through a text-based adventure.

Meta said the AI assistant and personas would launch in the US in beta mode from Wednesday, but that there were plans for “several more coming over the next few weeks” across a range of interests, including gaming, philosophy and fashion. The Financial Times first reported on Meta’s plans for persona-based chatbots this summer.

“This isn’t just going to be about answering queries,” Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, said during the conference. “This is about entertainment and about helping you do things to connect with the people around you, helping you accomplish the things that you want.”

Some of Meta’s AI chatbot personas © Meta

The Facebook parent also announced that developers would be able to build their own AIs for use on Meta’s messaging platforms. A separate feature to be launched in the coming year will enable those who cannot code to create their own bots, as the company races to capitalise on the boom in generative AI since Microsoft-backed OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November.

Meta is presenting the products as it battles back from what Zuckerberg dubbed a “year of efficiency”, when it cut tens of thousands of staff, narrowed its real estate footprint and axed low-priority projects. With cost cutting and a reinvigorated focus on AI, Meta’s share price has more than tripled from a November 2022 low.

The social media company also unveiled more details of its latest headset, an update of its top-selling Quest 2. The “mixed-reality” Quest 3 combines virtual and augmented reality, which overlays digital images on top of the real world, and will go on sale next month for $499.99.

The cost of the headset, which Meta aims to ship from October 10, compares with the $3,499 price tag on Apple’s Vision Pro headset, set to be released early next year.

“Mixed-reality” Quest 3 headset © Meta

Zuckerberg was keen to stress that he has not abandoned his metaverse ambitions, where people interact in virtual environments and worlds. “I think not too far from now, you’re going to walk into a room and there are going to be as many holograms of digital things for you to interact with as there are physical objects,” he said during his opening comments. Meta also aims eventually to have the AI characters, such as Max, appear in the metaverse as avatars, he said.

He added that the company was rolling these new features out “a bit more slowly than we normally would” in order to address any issues, amid concerns over privacy and safety.

The next generation of Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses was also on display, with a new function to livestream directly to Instagram and Facebook. The glasses will be updated next year, Meta said, and eventually will be able to identify buildings and translate signs in different languages.

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