Imagine this: you’ve just received a message from your child’s school that classes have ended early and you need to pick up your child. So now you are frantically messaging spouse or friends and family to come to the rescue.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, while you were typing that panicked message, someone suggested they’d arrange a cab and help you connect to the cab company?
Tel Aviv-based startup Ai Type — a developer of a virtual mobile keyboard — plans to do just that. Through the monitoring of typed conversations the company’s app will be able to offer users the chance to access a wide array of relevant chatbots — virtual personal assistants — based on their needs and according to their conversation topics. Only if they agree, of course.
Ai Type is already selling its virtual mobile keyboard app, which has had over 50 million downloads. To this keyboard platform, the company is planning to add a “Bots Matching engine,” which it hopes to start marketing by early 2017.
All major companies, like Facebook and Microsoft, are creating bots that can work as personal assistants for their users, said Avihai Michaeli, a co-CEO of Ai Type. But most bots are not gathered in one place like an App Store or Google Play, so “people don’t know what bots are out there or where to find them,” he said. And the user experience in searching for bots is time-consuming and inefficient.
“When it takes one forever to locate a personal assistance, it seems much faster for the users to keep on doing their tasks by themselves,” Michaeli said.
Now, however, said Michaeli, bot developers will be able to upload their products on Ai Type’s keyboard platform, define what the bot does, and underline what conversation phrases would be relevant to the bot. When users type in those phrases via the keyboard, Ai Type will offer them access to the relevant bot, regardless of who the owners of the bots are.
For example, if students ask their friends in a text conversation for a summary of an article they are looking for, Ai Type will say it can connect them to a bot that can help them find the summary.
If users agree, Ai Type will be able to “match users with the correct bots according to their needs,” Michaeli said. “This would be the first time that a keyboard will be able to actively suggest anything.”
Users can also decide if they want all their conversations monitored by the keyboard or just, say, work-related ones. “We work only in agreement with our users and we only monitor the conversations for bot suggestions,” Michaeli said. “We don’t collect the data.”
The company is currently working on a closed trial of the bot-matching engine in a variety of languages, Michaeli said. The company is also looking to raise funds from angel investors to grow.
Advances in artificial intelligence algorithms have increased investor interest in chatbots and voice assistants, said New York based-data company CB Insights in an August report. These bots include scheduling assistants and bots that help with tasks like finding the nearest restaurant to eat. In the first half of the year, deals in the bots sphere had already matched those for the whole of 2015.