Over Thanksgiving weekend, Facebook equipped its employees with “Liam,” a chatbot that would spit out PR talking points for employees to mouth when family members asked sensitive questions about their employer, according to the New York Times. Now, a manager at Google has created a bot that throws some major shade at the ridiculous Liam bot.
An employee can tell Facebook’s Liam bot what Uncle Joe just asked about Facebook’s history of privacy violations, and the bot will spit out nonanswers, like: “Facebook invests millions every year to preserve the privacy of our users.”
But Google senior manager Adrienne Porter Felt’s version of the bot spits out Facebook PR answers for all kinds of questions one might hear over the holidays. Like this:
added some more responses from congressional testimony. is this….AI? pic.twitter.com/Lh2i8bFMkk
— Adrienne Porter Felt (@__apf__) December 3, 2019
“Holiday conversations are often fraught, and I love the idea of a bot responding in stilted corp speak,” Felt told me in a Twitter DM. She says she is trying to find the time to write more helpful questions and answers and is open to suggestions.
After the Times broke the story about Facebook’s bot on Monday, Feld was quick on the trigger and had her satirical version of Liam done within hours.
Here’s my favorite answer suggestion from Felt’s bot:
That answer sounds like it comes right out of the Mark Zuckerberg script. He’s said this, or a variant, in his Facebook posts, on press calls, and in front of Congress. After the 20th time you hear one of these scripted responses, it begins to sound pretty robotic—almost as if Zuckerberg himself were an automaton.
The Liam bot is a departure for Facebook’s communications team. In the past, the company’s PR department sent talking points documents via internal Facebook groups. But Facebook loves its bots. It began promoting Facebook Messenger bots to its developer community in 2016. And as I wrote about this summer, the company is investing lots of research time and money in developing the natural language models that can carry on human-ish conversations.
However, a Facebook spokesperson told me the Facebook AI research group was not directly involved in developing the Liam bot. No surprises there: the Liam bot appears to be a dumb program that spits out canned answers.
Facebook says it was its employees who asked for help in answering tough questions from family and others. But if you need to look down at a bot on your phone to help you answer a question about the company you work for, you may not be working for a very savory company.