New update of Telegram for desktop (version 1.1.0) is now available from the Telegram website and through the inbuilt updater on the desktop app. Support for voice calls is the key feature in this update.
Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page. Google is reportedly working on a messaging service largely powered by chat bots. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
When history looks back at the evolution of messaging apps like WhatsApp, it’ll point to our present time as when the definition of “messaging” changed. WhatsApp used it to connect people with other people. Now Google ,which tried to buy WhatsApp early last year before Facebook swooped in and picked it up for $19 billion instead, wants to build its own messaging service that connects people with computers.
Google is working on a secret messaging service that will deliver services through chat bots, similar to those already found in popular chat networks like Kik and WeChat, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal that cites people familiar with the matter.
The company’s vice president of communications products, Nick Fox, is reportedly leading a team that for the last year, has been working on a messaging service that will be powered by artificial intelligence. The division is taking advantage of Google’s deep expertise in A.I. and machine learning to create bots that can understand conversational commands and respond in kind.
The service will be similar to Luka.ai, a SIRI-like app that you can hold a basic conversation with about local restaurant recommendations, according to the Journal. Another comparable example is Facebook M, a virtual assistant service similar to Siri that runs on Facebook Messenger Powered by both artificial intelligence and a team of human beings, its being trialled by beta testers in the Bay Area, California and can book travel, find products or suggest a good gift. You can ask M to order Star Wars tickets, draw you a picture, even write you a song. In such cases it can be hard to distinguish if you’re chatting with a bot or a human.
While the world’s biggest messaging app, WhatsApp, hasn’t introduced chat bots on its own network, Google’s project validates a strategy that other big messaging services have been chasing for some time. As inane and spammy as they might seem today, chat bots really are the future.
Since then Kik and others have put out their own versions of bots, no longer “spam” (though that’s arguable) because they’re sanctioned by the network’s creator. On Kik, you can chat with bots that are managed by brands like Funny or Die or the popular accessories maker Skull Candy and in effect become sucked into a newfangled form of advertising.
For example, earlier this year the advertisers behind horror movie Insidious 3programmed a bot named Quinn Brenner, with a name and profile photo that matched the main character from the film, to hold creepy conversations with the app’s users as a means to promote the movie:
In August 2015 Kik sold a $50 million stake to Tencent, the web giant that owns China’s most popular chat app, WeChat. This is meaningful because WeChat not only helped pioneer chat bots, but helped popularise them to its users base of more 600 million active users. Millions of companies now use WeChat as their main route to advertise to customers and communicate with them. Kik CEO Ted Livingston has said more “official accounts” are created on WeChat everyday in China than Chinese sites are created on the web.
Traditionally we interact with a company’s website by “navigating” through a visual smorgasbord of buttons, but WeChat takes that to the next level thanks to bots, which cut to the chase by answering your texted questions.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has has called this a “conversational user interface,” (and chat bots are an increasingly important feature in Slack too).
The growth of chat bots makes perfect sense when you think about it. As technology has gone mobile and our desire for more content has exploded, screens have got smaller. Something has got to give. The future will see funkily designed mobile sites trashed in favour of clever A.I. that talks to you from your phone or the wearable on your wrist.
For Google to maintain its position as King of Search in that kind of world, it’s crucial that it also becomes one of the first popular services that we chat to, rather than passively read as a list of search results.
In October Google tried giving this project a leg up by acquiring 200 Labs, a startup that specializes in building chat bots for messaging platforms like Telegram, the Journal added, but 200 Labs declined.
If more people turn to chat bots to answer questions about restaurants or products, they’ll spend less time typing search queries into Google’s search bar. Google’s very livelihood could depend on this going well.