Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook Acquires AI Startup Ozlo for More Meaningful Messenger Conversations

An early investor in AI research, Facebook has been slow to develop its AI-powered assistant M. An acquisition this week could change that.

As Facebook slowly builds out capabilities of Facebook M, its AI-powered assistant in Messenger, the company has made an acquisition this week may help speed up its development. On Monday, Facebook announced that it has acquired Palo Alto-based artificial intelligence startup Ozlo.

According to the company, Ozlo “helps assistants and other intelligent systems understand and represent the contours of the real world. Intelligent systems powered by Ozlo are able to have more meaningful interactions with users.”

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but according to a report by Recode, the majority of Ozlo’s 30 employees will be joining Messenger in Facebook offices in either Menlo Park, Calif. or Seattle, Wash.

Messenger had more than 1.2 billion monthly active users as of April 2017, as more Facebook users leverage the app as their primary communications channel. Facebook released updates to M in June, which include proactively recommending people save content in Messenger conversations, and initiating voice and video calls. As far as chatbots go, those features seem to be fairly standard, but by bringing Ozlo into the mix, Messenger could have new, more complex capabilities sooner.

According to Recode, Ozlo specializes in text-based conversations and can “offer probabilistic assertions alongside accepted fact - a fundamentally better model of the world.” An example of this is a user asking an AI assistant whether a restaurant is group friendly based on pulling and understanding multiple reviews.  

“When we started Ozlo, we saw a tremendous explosion of on-the-go communication. We wanted to build a new way for people to connect with each other, gather information and discover services. Our world-class team has built a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities and created amazing AI technology that uses this data to understand real-world nuances,” Ozlo said on its website. “Now, we're ready to take the next step in our journey with Messenger. By joining a team that shares our values and our vision, we will be able to continue to work on building experiences powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. There's a lot more for us to explore ahead and we're excited to bring our technology to the Messenger community.”

Ozlo previously raised a $14 million funding round in May 2016, led by Greylock Partners.

While this year in particular has seen a surge in machine learning and artificial intelligence investments, it is worth noting that Facebook made big bets in AI research starting in late 2013 when it created Facebook Artificial Intelligence Researchers (FAIR), an AI research arm led by Yann LeCun.

Facebook’s most recent AI research has been around training AI bots to negotiate, which made headlines this week as Facebook said it had to shut down the two chat bots who were bargaining in a made-up language as they had no incentive to speak in English.

Investments in AI could also help push capabilities on the enterprise-side of things for Facebook, in particular, further development of bots in Work Chat and Facebook Workplace groups. Competitors Slack and Microsoft have made bots a key part of their enterprise strategy. 

In September, Facebook, along with Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft, launched The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society to advance understanding of AI and create best practices. 

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