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Google bought a chatbot start-up for a future where we’ll all be talking to robots

Google has acquired API.ai, a company that provides a platform for developers to build chatbots, as the U.S. technology giant joins the likes of Facebook in betting on smart assistants within apps.

API.ai has over 60,000 developers using its tools to build conversational apps for services like Facebook or Slack, the team messaging platform.

The start-up is based in California. Google did not disclose how much it is paying for API.ai.

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Chatbots are apps or pieces of software that users can interact with via speech or text. They are then able to respond providing information or even carrying out a task. The development of chatbots relies on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

Google, along with Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, believe that humans talking to devices will be a big part of the future.

Getting computers to understand natural language is difficult. As humans, we can understand context and how one sentence could mean different things. But this is hard for software to grasp. API.ai has tools for developers to create Siri-like chatbots that can understand and respond to humans. These chatbots that are created can then be integrated with other platforms.

"API.ai offers one of the leading conversational user interface platforms and they'll help Google empower developers to continue building great natural language interfaces," Scott Huffman, Google's vice president of engineering, said in a blog post on Monday announcing the deal.

Chatbots are all the rage among the world's biggest technology companies. In April, Facebook announced a platform for developers to create chatbots in its Messenger app. Last year, the company acquired Wit.ai, a firm that creates tools to help developers make chatbots.

It's unclear how Google will integrate API.ai into its operations but the search giant has been focusing heavily on so-called natural language processing and improving the ability for computers to sound more like humans when they speak. Google's DeepMind, the artificial intelligence start-up, bought by Google for £400 million ($532 million) in 2014, recently made big strides in improving this.