December 22, 2015
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For those of you who still hold fond memories of chatting it up with SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger, Google looks like it has a project in the works that may catch your eye. The sultan of search is rumored to be developing a new messaging service to compete with Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp, and one of its primary features is an army of bots that will let you get in on the chatting action even if you don’t have any friends.

In addition to alleviating the crushing weight of your inescapable isolation (if only in a transient and illusory way), these bots will hunt and fetch information for you. Google says the goal is to make finding content more conversational and natural. The Alphabet-owned company is relying on their impressive artificial intelligence research to make these bots dynamic and adaptive. For instance, you might ask one for a dinner recommendation. It may suggest a steakhouse near you, but if you decline on the basis that you’re a vegetarian, the bot will remember this and avoid referring you to meat-heavy establishments.

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The idea is to have a variety of chat bots that can fulfill different needs of different users. The bots will even recommend other bots to you based on your interests and questions. Oh, and you can talk to real people too if you get bored.

In terms of real people communication, Google has been struggling to compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, as well as WeChat, which is China’s largest messaging app. The challenge Google faces is that more and more people are getting their search information from each other, rather than from a search bar. Naturally, Google wants a piece of that pie, and they believe the best way to do it is to let you talk with your fleshy friends alongside a slew of artificial pals who know how to find things better than your mortal compatriots.

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“All users care about is a convenient way to find what they are looking for and if Google isn’t in front of the consumer that is a problem for them,” said Scott Stanford, co-founder of venture-capital firm Sherpa Capital. “Messaging is a subset of the Internet where Google is not strong. They have to win and be the dominant player in messaging.”

There’s no timeline for when we can start to see betas of this project. In fact, the new messaging app hasn’t even been officially confirmed by Google yet. However, ever since Hangouts failed to net the same userbase as Messenger, we’ve been waiting for the company to follow up with a new instant messaging app. Pulling from their box of AI toys seems like a pretty logical move, so we’d be surprised if this project or something very similar to it fails to crest the horizon in the near future.

What do you think of the idea of combining chatbots with normal messaging user interface? Recipe for disaster or a natural fit? Let us know in the comments!

Next: 10 best texting apps for Android

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