Google working on AI chatbots to power next-gen search

The search giant is reportedly building a hub for chatbots, which would fetch information from the net.

Not to be outdone by Facebook's AI-assisted M for Messenger, Google is cooking up a new mobile messaging app to hook up people and question-answering chatbots.

The new service would allow people to type in a question and Google would find the best-fitting chatbot to answer it, the Wall Street Journal reports, providing an alternative to Google's traditional search engine when it comes to information gathering.

The report notes that Google's goal is to develop something akin to the chatbot marketplace run by Telegram, a messaging app headed up Vkontake co-founder Pavel Durov. The company, which bills itself as a secure messaging service, has opened up its messaging platform for third-party developers to build bots that users can tap up for single tasks, such as making friends, GitHub updates, trivia and finding images.

Instead of typing a query into Google's search engine, users will send questions as text messages, to which chatbots will respond. Google likely will allow outside developers to build chatbots to run on the service, according to a source familiar with the project.

According to WSJ, Telegram's bot platform was built by chatbot developer 200 Labs, which knocked back an acquisition offer from Google in October.

Google's new messaging app is being led by Nick Fox, vice president of "Google communications", the unit that oversees products like Hangouts, Google's WebRTC (real time communications) work and the company's mobile service for Nexus devices, Project Fi.

Sources told the paper that Fox and his team have been working on the new product for at least a year.

The report also notes that Google's new messaging service is a defensive move to protect its turf in discovery, which is under threat from chatbots and hugely popular messaging apps, such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Chinese messaging app, WeChat. Despite Hangouts shipping with Android phones, Google hasn't managed to create the same buzz around the service as rival apps, and it's been criticised for lacking features.

Presumably this new app will seek to close the feature gap with rival messaging apps as well as better compete with Facebook M, an AI-based personal assistant within Messenger that Facebook is testing behind closed doors. Facebook wants the service to be used for tasks such as buying goods, booking restaurants and flights.

The WSJ notes that it's not clear when Google's service will be launched or what it will be called. The big question for Google is whether it will be more successful than past efforts.

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