Meta's plan to attract young users hinges on cringe-worthy AI chatbots

They’ll have unique personalities, including one called the “sassmaster general.”

Unsplash/Dima Solomin

Meta’s planning on unleashing a swarm of personality-driven AI chatbots to attract young users to its various platforms, as originally reported by The Wall Street Journal. The first of these bots could launch as early as this week, with rumors persisting that one will get announced during Meta’s Connect conference on Wednesday.

It looks like these bots won’t be tied to a particular platform under Meta’s umbrella and should launch on a variety of social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp. The Journal says that Meta employees have been testing the generative bots for a while. The bots are being released to increase chat engagement, but some may offer productivity tools like coding and the like.

These AI chatbots are stuffed with personality to keep the young (and young at heart) entertained. Specifics remain vague, but The Journal got a look at some internal documents that detail an AI called “Bob the Robot” that’s loosely based on Bender from Futurama. This bot is a self-described “sassmaster general” with the internal documents referring to it as a “sassy robot that taps into the type of farcical humor that is resonating with young people.” As a note, Futurama premiered almost 25 years ago, long before many of those farcical humor-loving young people were even born.

There’s also a bot called “Alvin the Alien” that reportedly pries users for personal information in its quest to understand humans. “Your species holds fascination for me,” an internal report has it saying. “Share your experiences, thoughts and emotions! I hunger for understanding.” One employee noted in the memo that users “might fear this character” as it seems like it’s “purposefully designed to collect personal information.” The company has been famously squeaky-clean regarding privacy violations in the past, so this should cause no concern.

Meta’s been trying to court younger users for a while now, particularly since the meteoric rise of TikTok. The app has overtaken Instagram in recent years and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants that marketshare back, telling investors during a conference call in 2021 that the company would retool its “teams to make serving young adults their North Star rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people.” So it looks like there won’t be a chatbot that complains about participation trophies or Bud Light or whatever.

The Journal suggests that dozens of these chatbots are on the way, referred to internally as Gen AI Personas. They’ll also pop up in metaverse applications in addition to standard social media services. Reports also indicate that Meta’s prepping a toolset for celebrities to allow them to create their own AI chatbots to interact with fans.

Of course, Meta’s not the first social media company to court youngsters with personality-filled chatbots. Amazon's prepping an Alexa-powered voice chat service for kids. Snap also launched the My AI service back in February and it has been used by over 150 million people since that release. Despite the success, My AI has run into some troubling issues for a product intended for children. For instance, it has chatted about alcohol and sex with users and even randomly started posting photos without consent. We’ll have to wait and see if “Bob the Robot” and his cohorts start behaving badly when they launch.

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