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Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service – TechCrunch

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As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.



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Old Google Pay in the US will become useless in April

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It isn’t exactly out of the ordinary that Google retires an app or service in favor of a new one. Often, but not always, it waits for the new version to at least be ready for the all old users to switch to. That didn’t actually happen smoothly in the transition to YouTube Music but hopefully, Google Pay will be a different story. No, users are just being pushed to a new version of the Google Pay app and the company will be forcing users’ hands by making the old one practically useless in April.

The new Google Pay announced late last year is both a redesign of the old app as well as a consolidation of its confusing “G Pay” brand of the past. It wasn’t a one-for-one replacement of the old Google Pay, with some of its features moved to other parts of the Google Play services framework. That said, it also added more features that the old app didn’t have and will never have since it has been deprecated.

Not all users may have moved over to the new Google Pay app by now for one reason or another but they may have no other choice soon. Come April 5, the old Google pay app will lose its ability to send or receive money, view past transactions, or even see your remaining balance. In other words, you’ll still be able to open the app but can’t do anything else unless you move to the new app.

This change, however, applies only to the US, according to Google’s confirmation to Android Police. The new Google Pay app isn’t available in other markets yet so those will keep the status quo, at least for now. Curiously, there is no mention of other markets that do have the new Google Pay app already.

The new Google Pay app is apparently still marked as Early Access, suggesting it’s still in pre-release development. That could change before April 5, however, and there’s still plenty of time to polish up the app before that deadline.

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Samsung Exynos with AMD Radeon GPU could come in a laptop first

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Although Qualcomm and, to some extent, Rockchip, have long been on some laptops running Windows and Chrome OS, respectively, the arrival of the Apple Silicon M1 showed how the market for ARM-based desktops and laptops is still wide open to competition. There are, however, only a few big names that could probably be a good fit for that kind of device and it seems that Samsung’s biggest Exynos gamble will be heading to laptops first instead of smartphones.

Given that Samsung’s Exynos processors have so far been used mostly in smartphones, it was natural to presume that its partnership with AMD back in 2019 would be applied to mobile devices initially. That is reinforced by the strong mobile gaming trends and Qualcomm’s dominance in smartphone graphics. That was also a year before the Apple M1 showed up to flaunt its desktop prowess but it seems that Samsung might have already been thinking ahead.

According to ZDNet Korea’s industry sources, the Exynos 2200, which is believed to be the name of the next Samsung processor, will actually power a Windows 10 laptop in the second half of the year. This is the same processor that’s believed to be the first of its kind to utilize AMD’s Radeon graphics technology, something that’s definitely needed to run something as heavy as Windows 10, even its ARM version.

If true, this would directly challenge Qualcomm’s so far exclusive role in the Windows 10 on ARM market. It will definitely be interesting to see the combination of Exynos and AMD technologies will prove to be more powerful than what Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Compute series has to offer. The performance of Snapdragon-based Windows 10 laptops and tablets have so far been modest at best, including the Surface Pro X with the custom Snapdragon SQ2 chip.

If all goes well, this Exynos 2220 Windows laptop could also benefit Microsoft indirectly, giving Windows on ARM a much-needed boost. With M1 Macs’ benchmarks and performance reviews flying high, Windows on ARM definitely needs all the help it can get.

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Raspberry Pi and OpenScan make a better 3D scanner than your phone

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I have a question about 3D scanning devices: Why aren’t they easier to access? Today a project by Thomas Megel made the rest of the handheld smart device universe look silly by comparison. With OpenScan project software, Raspberry Pi, and the Pi camera v2.1, Megel created a budget-friendly 3D-scanning system that’s able to capture highly accurate 10-micron 3D scans with relative ease.

Megel is the founder of OpenScan, a system with which users can create 3D scanning hardware and process with software without breaking the bank. OpenScan started based on an Arduino-powered control unit and pre-built cameras. Here in 2021, the project works with an even simpler set of items: Raspberry Pi and a Raspberry Pi Camera Module.

Per Megel, the system Megel’s used can capture sub-50-micron accuracy with the basic Raspberry Pi Camera Module v2.1. The 10-micron accuracy comes with a slightly better Raspberry Pi HQ Camera Module. Megel explains the basic process in a Reddit thread and points users toward the OpenScan subReddit. The OpenScan Sketchfab page shows a variety of items that’ve been 3D scanned and processed with OpenScan software.

Experimental cloud software “OpenScanCloud” processing can be found in the OpenScan Github (for the cloud) and the entire OpenScan directory has “all you need to build your 3D scanner.” This was all done by a 3d-party, not-for-profit set of individuals – and it’s shockingly simple and effective.

With LiDAR and other 3D sensor systems on smartphones that cost over $1k in user hands right now, I can’t help but wonder why a 3D scanning camera system isn’t more readily available. This should be the most basic and easily-usable part of a smart device with a 3D sensor, right out the gate. Cross your fingers this project will push big brands in smartphones to include similar software in the near future by default.

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