Hugging Face wants to become your artificial BFF

Meet Hugging Face, a new chatbot app for bored teenagers. The New York-based startup is creating a fun and emotional bot. Hugging Face will generate a digital friend so you can text back and forth and trade selfies.

Playing with Hugging Face was a lot more engaging than talking with a customer support bot. Like other companies, Hugging Face doesn’t want to be useful. It wants to create a fun digital companion.

The startup was co-founded by Clément Delangue and Julien Chaumond. They have raised $1.2 million from Betaworks, SV Angel and NBA star Kevin Durant and others. Quite a nice list of investors.

“There are many people working on artificial intelligence for productivity or utility applications,” co-founder and CEO Delangue told me back in September 2016 when the app was still in early private beta. “We’re building an AI so that you’re having fun talking with it. When you’re chatting with it, you’re going to laugh and smile — it’s going to be entertaining.”

I tried the app and I have to say that it was surprisingly entertaining. There’s no interface — Hugging Face is basically a conversation like in other messaging apps, with a text field at the bottom and chat bubbles everywhere else.

When you send something, the company’s servers will try as hard as possible to interpret your message, photo, emojis and more. In my experience, it wasn’t perfect, but that’s not really the point. Hugging Face doesn’t want to replace Siri or Google Assistant. Most of the time, I tried sending something to see what would come up. The element of surprise is an essential part of the experience.

You can ask for jokes, talk about your day but also set up a reminder. The bot will also ask questions about your friends and loved ones so that you always have someone to talk with.

But this isn’t about replacing your friends. It’s just that you can’t be with your friends at all times. “If you compare it to a pet, your pet isn’t going to replace your friends. You can be the most popular guy in the world and have a dog or a cat,” Delangue said.

When you sign up, you immediately know this isn’t yet again another boring Messenger bot. You can name your bot and choose its profile picture. And when I gave it my age, it told me that I was the same age as Emma Watson. This tidbit is useless as I don’t know Emma Watson, but it still made me smile.

Named after the “hugging face” emoji 🤗, the app is now available for iOS for free. While it seems a bit counterintuitive to launch a brand new app instead of using existing chatbot platforms, such as Messenger, Skype, Telegram and more, the company is already thinking about launching on third-party platforms.

Now, let’s see if Hugging Face can learn from its users. I hope that the chatbot is going to get better over time as the company can start aggregating conversation data. This is what could turn Hugging Face from a great first-time experience into a lasting friendship.