Facebook’s 10-year plan: the Messenger bots are coming

Company hires Google’s Regina Dugan to head up hardware division

Virtual reality, messaging bots and a strong focus on video are all part of Facebook’s plan for the future as the company

In chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's vision of the future, consumers will interact with artificially intelligent bots using Facebook Messenger that will provide everything from weather and traffic updates to sending receipts or live automated messages.

It’s part of the company’s 10-year plan to change how people will interact with each other, and Mr Zuckerberg said he sees it developing even further into the future, with people interacting with digital representations of places and objects through applications, instead of the real-life experience.

“A lot of the things we think about as physical objects today, like a TV, will actually just be a $1 app in an app store,” Mr Zuckerberg told the developer conference.


The Messenger platform currently has more than 900 million users; eventually, directly interacting with consumers could replace individual apps.

"People love to interact with businesses and services inside of Messenger," said Facebook's David Marcus. "It also makes the product a more central part of people's daily lives."

The bots will be able to offer customers multiple-choice options, understand images and process e-commerce purchases, he said, through a conversational system.

Although Facebook won’t initially make money off the system, it may introduce a revenue model when - or if - it takes hold with consumers.

More than 2,500 developers and partners packed out the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco to hear the Facebook founder outline the company’s future plans. The conference was also streamed online.

Over two days, Facebook emphasised its commitment to video and virtual reality. The company plans to open up the API for its live video to developers, and also discussed a 3D 360 camera system that it calls Facebook Surround 360 that will produce 3D video, capable of stitching videos from 17 cameras.

But it doesn’t plan on getting into the manufacturing of cameras, planning to share the code instead.

The second day of the conference saw chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer outline the social network's work to connect people, including social VR, which would allow users to share photographs that turn into an almost virtual reality world, through Oculus's Rift headset and touch controllers.

To help push the company's ambitions, Facebook has hired Google's Regina Dugan to head up a hardware-focused research and development group called Building 8. Dugan was head of the Advanced Technology and Products group at Google, and is expected to direct efforts to build hardware that uses Facebook's software and complements technologies from Oculus VR and the company's artificial intelligence research unit.

Additional reporting: Bloomberg

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist