Google is building a smart messaging service to take on Facebook ‘M’

Google is working on a new “smart” messaging service that will be able automatically answer users’ questions, sources with knowledge of the plans tell The Wall Street Journal’s Alistair Barr.

Although the report is sparse on concrete details, the app sounds like a combination of Google’s current Hangouts service – which lets users message their friends -and Facebook M, the virtual “personal assistant” which, in its beta phase, can complete tasks for users like ordering flowers or booking flights.

Facebook aims to build M so that the service will use artificial intelligence to complete various tasks, although its early incarnation relies on humans, who oversee the AI.

Google is also looking to weave AI into the mix. The app would take advantage of the company’s artificial intelligence capabilities and web search skills, according to the WSJ.

For example, Google’s new service could let someone switch between texting a friend and asking a chatbot to offer a restaurant suggestion based on their prior preferences, in the same thread.

As more people relegate their smartphone usage time to staying within apps, a new messaging service would be a way for Google to keep them using a form of its search engine.

“Instead of typing a query into Google’s search engine, users will type questions as text messages, to which chatbots will respond,” the WSJ reports.

The report also says that Google would most likely let other developers build chatbots that could integrate with its service, similar to how Facebook has built an app store within its Messenger chat app.

It’s unclear how the new service could integrate with Google Now on Tap, which uses information that’s on someone’s screen to show them related details, apps, or actions.

Business Insider reached out to Google and will update when we hear back.