Facebook scales back AI flagship after chatbots hit 70% f-AI-lure rate

'The limitations of automation'

So it begins.

Facebook has scaled back its ambitions and refocused its application of "artificial intelligence" after its AI bots hit a 70 per cent failure rate. Facebook unveiled a bot API for its Messenger IM service at its developer conference last April. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had high hopes.

TenCent's WeChat was the model. Although WeChat began life as an instant-messaging client, it rapidly evolved into a major platform for e-commerce and transactions in China. But it largely keeps any AI guesswork away from real users.

With Facebook's bot API, Zuckerberg had joined a "chatbot arms race" with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. For Nadella, chatbots were "Conversations as a Platform," or even the "third run-time" – as important to humanity as the operating system or the web browser.

Some experts fretted that if China opened up a lead in AI, the West would be doomed to lose World War 3. Others suggested that whichever superpower lost the AI arms race would relapse into a state of primitive technology feudalism.

However, as we reminded you recently, the reality of "artificial intelligence" is far from impressive, once it's made to perform outside carefully stage managed and narrow demos. As stage one, Facebook's AI would parse the conversation and insert relevant external links into Messenger conversations. So how has the experiment fared?

In tests, Silicon Valley blog The Information reports, the technology "could fulfil only about 30 per cent of requests without human agents." And that wasn't the only problem. "The bots built by outside developers had issues: the technology to understand human requests wasn't developed enough. Usage was disappointing," we're told. Now it's simply trying to make sense of the conversation.

There's even a phrase you won't have seen in many mainstream thinkpieces about AI, predicting a near future of clever algorithms taking middle-class jobs. Brace yourselves, dear readers. Facebook engineers will now focus on "training [Messenger] based on a narrower set of cases so users aren't disappointed by the limitations of automation."


"Their discussions are much more grounded in reality now compared to last year," said another person close to the Messenger developers. "The team in there now is finding ways to activate commercial intent inside Messenger. It's much less about, 'We'll dominate the world with AI.'"

Analyst Richard Windsor describes Facebook as "the laggard in AI," failing to match the results Google. "The problems that it has had with fake news, idiotic bots and Facebook M, all support my view that when Facebook tries to automate its systems, things always go wrong. The problem is not that Facebook does not have the right people but simply that it has not been working on artificial intelligence for nearly long enough," he wrote recently.

In its exclusive, The Information also notes that Facebook has been grappling with what we call the "Clippy The Paperclip problem": the user views the contribution by the agent, or bot, as intrusive.

"Clippy didn't fail for lack of good intentions, or contextual unawareness, but because the interruption was inappropriate," we noted.

Facebook is expected to unveil its revised plans for its chat AI stuff at this year's F8 developer conference in April. ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022