What can we expect from Facebook F8?

Facebook’s annual developer conference F8 is starting in San Francisco today. Over the course of the next two days we’re expecting to see a range of announcements coming from the social media giant, including updates to Messenger, Instagram, virtual reality and live video.

The main focus, similar to what we saw at Microsoft’s Build last month, is expected to be virtual assistants and chatbots, which can book a taxi or buy clothes for you straight from Messenger. Facebook will probably release the tools for anyone to build chatbots for Messenger at its F8 conference.

“Bots are the new apps,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said last month. Microsoft has just created new programming tools for businesses to build bots that will interact with customers on Skype, the Microsoft-owned Internet voice, video and messaging service.

Facebook has already partnered with a few online retailers and transportation companies so consumers can use Messenger to check the status of a clothing purchase from online retailer Zulily, order car service from Uber or get a boarding pass from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

At those services, automated chatbots handle some interactions, with supervision from human operators. Similarly, Facebook has been testing a digital assistant called “M” _ sort of like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana _ that can answer questions or perform tasks like ordering flowers in response to commands on Messenger. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and input from human overseers.

Other announcements are likely to include a standalone live video app, a focus on creating VR content and peer-to-peer payments.

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