Facebook Buys AI Startup Ozlo to Improve Virtual Assistant M

Facebook just acquired Ozlo, a small AI startup founded four years ago and based in Palo Alto, California. The social media giant made the purchase in order to improve Messenger’s virtual assistant, dubbed M. Ozlo describes its product as “an index of knowledge about the real world,” which implies that a user could ask questions and receive answers about a wide range of topics. The company has 30 employees, and a majority of them will be joining Facebook’s Messenger teams in Menlo Park, California and Seattle, Washington.

Business Insider reports that Ozlo’s AI system, which is similar to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant, features “a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities,” and responses in natural language. Facebook’s M has lagged behind, with “many of its capabilities … handled by a team of human ‘trainers’ rather than true AI.”

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Facebook chief exec Mark Zuckerberg stressed the importance of AI to Facebook’s 10-year plan on the company’s quarterly earnings call, and the company added that the Ozlo acquisition will help it build “compelling experiences within Messenger that are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Recode states that Ozlo “has raised $14 million from a number of investors, including Greylock,” and that, “as part of the acquisition, it will shutter its existing app and its enterprise APIs.” Ozlo says that its virtual assistant “can understand and provide answers to questions that don’t necessarily have simple yes or no answers,” which the company dubs “probabilistic assertions of truth.”

A demo on Ozlo’s website prior to the acquisition announcement showed its AI assistant “pulling and understanding multiple reviews” in order to answer a question as to whether or not a restaurant is “group friendly.”

It’s unclear whether Ozlo’s virtual assistant “will fold into Messenger’s existing virtual assistant, M.” Facebook has improved M, but by “building a text-based assistant, despite others like Apple, Google and Amazon, which are building voice-controlled AI assistants.”