Earlier this week, Google announced the acquisition of API.AI, a tech firm that supplies the software tools for building chatbots (among other platforms). Developers have already used those tools to build software for Facebook Messenger, Slack, and other platforms.
“API.AI offers one of the leading conversational user interface platforms,” read an accompanying note on the Google Developers Blog, “and they’ll help Google empower developers to continue building great natural language interfaces.”
API.AI launched in 2014. Its APIs center on what the company calls “conversational interfaces,” and its roadmap extends beyond chatbots to connected cars, smart homes, and robots. “Our vision has been to make technology understand and speak human language,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, API.AI’s CEO, wrote in a statement soon after Google’s announcement, “and help developers build truly intelligent conversational interfaces for their products and services.”
For Google, it seems that API.AI is the next piece in an ever-expanding puzzle. In February, the search-engine giant released the beta version of its Google Cloud Vision API, which can detect images, content, text, and even sentiment from images. It has rolled out a Cloud Speech API, which leverages machine learning in speech recognition, along with an API for natural language processing.
If that wasn’t enough, Google now offers a Translate API, which will translate an arbitrary string of text into any supported language; and because user-generated text may not include a language code, the software can auto-detect a language in advance of the translation.
Google’s obsession with natural language extends back several years. During 2013’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, for example, Google senior vice president Amit Singhal told an audience that the “dream is for search to become the ‘Star Trek’ computer, and that’s what we’re building.” Fast-forward to today, with Google baking natural-language interactions into virtually all of its products, from Android to the forthcoming Google Home. The science-fiction vision of ‘Star Trek,’ in which computers can hold a conversation with human beings, is closer to becoming science-fact.
As with most software initiatives, the ultimate success of Google’s natural language dreams hinges on third-party developers getting onboard. Thus we have the API.AI acquisition, along with the release of several Google APIs related to machine learning and language processing: Google wants to help those devs build a future in which we talk as naturally to our devices as we do to our friends and colleagues.