Facebook acquires startup to make its AI more helpful

The acquisition of Ozlo may improve the conversational abilities of its chatbots and personal assistant.

Facebook is looking to improve the capabilities of its smart personal assistant and chatbots with this week’s acquisition of conversational AI startup Ozlo.

Ozlo was founded in 2013 by Charles Jolley, who had previously been Facebook’s head of platform for Android. Last fall, it launched its AI-powered personal assistant as an independent alternative to the ones offered by the established tech giants.

Ozlo is also differentiated by its approach to conversational AI. Knowledge graphs are the databases that contain all the facts that make AI platforms “intelligent,” and Ozlo took a “probabilistic” approach to its knowledge graph that pulled from multiple facts to answer more nuanced and opinionated queries beyond “yes” or “no” questions. It also aimed to help other developers do the same, making its knowledge layer available for purchase through a series of APIs launched in March.

The Ozlo app and all of its services will now be shuttered, though “the majority” of its 30-person team is expected to make the transition over to Facebook. It has not been made immediately clear what the Ozlo team will be working on at Facebook, but their experience has obvious applications for both Facebook’s personal assistant M and conversational features within Messenger.

Facebook’s M is still in beta, but earlier this year it launched a limited service that offered suggestions for tasks and services based on what was being said in Messenger chats instead of directly answering complicated queries – the majority of which were being redirected to human advisers. Ozlo may be able to help M improve its language understanding and catch up to the assistants from Amazon, Google and Apple.

On the Messenger side, conversational bots have become more prevalent on the platform despite the fact that they still often run into words and phrases they don’t understand – and the most engaging bots tend to be the ones that have found creative ways to deal with that. The expertise from Ozlo could help Facebook make those situations more rare and make developers more willing to move outside of the menu-based bots that are less conversational, but simpler to both develop and interact with.

Outside of AI, Facebook was also rumoured this week to be working on stand-alone video chat hardware following a report from Bloomberg.