Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Why you might soon text robots as often as your friends

12 April 2016, 08:12

San Francisco — The robots are coming — to help run your life or sell you stuff — at an online texting service near you.

In coming months, users of Facebook's Messenger app, Microsoft's Skype and Canada's Kik can expect to find new automated assistants offering information and services at a variety of businesses. These messaging "chatbots" are basically software that can conduct human-like conversation and do simple jobs once reserved for people. Google and other companies are reportedly working on similar ideas.

In Asia, software butlers are already part of the landscape. When Washington, D.C., attorney Samantha Guo visited China recently, the 32-year-old said she was amazed at how extensively her friends used bots and similar technology on the texting service WeChat to pay for meals, order movie tickets and even send each other gifts.

"It was mind-blowing," Guo said. U.S. services lag way behind, she added.

Online messaging has become routine for most people, offering more immediacy than email or voice calls, said Michael Wolf, a media and technology consultant. Messaging services are now growing faster than traditional online social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, according to research by Wolf's firm, Activate.

And experts say messaging bots can handle a wider range of tasks than apps offered by retailers and other consumer businesses. In part, that's because bots can recognize a variety of spoken or typed phrases, where apps force users to choose from options on a drop-down menu. Reaching a chatbot can be as simple as clicking a link in an online ad or scanning a boxy bar code with a smartphone camera. A special-purpose app requires a download and often a new account sign-up.

Read Also: Japan robot owners warned off droid sex

"Bots are the new apps," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said last month. Microsoft has just created new programming tools for businesses to build bots that will interact with customers on Skype, the Microsoft-owned Internet voice, video and messaging service.

Facebook is widely expected to unveil similar tools for its Messenger chat service at the company's annual software conference starting Tuesday. It's already partnered with a few online retailers and transportation companies so consumers can use Messenger to check the status of a clothing purchase from online retailer Zulily, order car service from Uber or get a boarding pass from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

At those services, automated chatbots handle some interactions, with supervision from human operators. Similarly, Facebook has been testing a digital assistant called "M'' — sort of like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana — that can answer questions or perform tasks like ordering flowers in response to commands on Messenger. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and input from human overseers.

Another messaging service, Kik, which is popular among U.S. teenagers, opened a new "bot shop" last week. Kik users can talk to bots that will answer questions about the weather, show funny videos or help with online shopping. Slack, a messaging service used by businesses, has partnered with Taco Bell to introduce a "Taco Bot" that helps Slack users order ahead for meals at a local outlet.

In Asia, many smartphone owners are used to playing games and buying items through messaging services like WeChat, which claims 700 million active users. One in five WeChat users has added bank or credit card information so that person can check balances, pay bills or send money to friends, according to the Andreesen Horowitz venture capital firm.

Tech experts are particularly eager to see what Facebook does with Messenger, since its 900 million users make it the world's second biggest chat platform after WhatsApp, which claims 1 billion users. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014.

Both are free to users and don't produce much revenue for Facebook. But if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has given WhatsApp's co-founders leeway with their service, executives have signaled they are increasingly looking for ways to make money from Messenger.

Although Facebook has not ruled out advertising on Messenger, analyst Ken Sena of the Evercore investment firm says a more immediate revenue source could be fees from businesses, such as hotel and travel companies offering to provide reservations and other services through the chat app.

With the help of artificial intelligence programs that learn from interactions, Sena said in a recent report, chatbots "are becoming scarily good" at carrying on human-like conversations.

Or sometimes just scary. Microsoft last month shut down an experimental chatbot , known as Tay, after malicious Twitter users taught the program to repeat racist and sexist statements. Undeterred, the company has pledged to learn from the experience and build better software in the future.

For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page!

- AP


Why Caffeine Is Used for Weight Loss

21 October 2016, 11:10

Read more from our Users

Submitted by
George Vodongo
Kalonzo says he will defeat UhuRu...

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has expressed confidence that he will send the Jubilee government home in the upcoming Presidential election. Read more...

Submitted by
S Mbinya
Why Caffeine Is Used for Weight L...

The following are the reasons why caffeine is used for weight loss. Read more...

Submitted by
S Mbinya
What guys want in relationships

Here are the top four things guys need in a relationship. Read more...

Submitted by
EACC recovers KES3.5 million stol...

EACC has recovered KES 3.5 million stolen from Mukurwe-ini Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by former committee members managing the kitty. Read more...

Submitted by
Governor snubs Mashujaa Day celeb...

The Governor was last seen in public during his impeachment debate at Senate, which he survived, and later went India for medical checkups. Read more...

Submitted by
Ben Wangui
President recognises Kenya’s new ...

From young innovators, to doctors and local athletes who have represented Kenya in various events, here are the young heroes recognised by the President in this year's Mashujaa Day celebrations. Read more...