In a WhatsApp text conversation this week, we asked Jane Austen — yes, the 19th-century British author — how she felt about Mr. Darcy, a character from one of her most famous works, “Pride and Prejudice.”
After a few seconds, Ms. Austen responded.
“Ah, Mr. Darcy. Everyone remembers him as one of my characters,” she said, her face appearing in a small window above our conversation. “But fewer people have read one of my books,” she added, with an arched eyebrow and what seemed like a hint of resentment.
Ms. Austen was not actually talking to us. But a modern interpretation of her likeness was used by Meta, which owns WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, as part of an artificially intelligent character that could chat across the company’s messaging apps. Characters based on other people’s likenesses — including the former quarterback Tom Brady, the social media influencers Mr. Beast and Charlie D’Amelio, and the hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg — were also available to converse.
These characters were part of a suite of products that Meta introduced on Wednesday — all powered by artificial intelligence — and that will soon be found throughout its products, including Instagram, Messenger, and virtual- and augmented-reality devices like the Quest 3 headset and Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses. The rollout also includes a chatbot that will be powered partly by Microsoft’s Bing search engine, as well as A.I.-assisted image-editing tools to use on Instagram.
“Most people haven’t had the chance to experience” the newest and most powerful A.I technologies, Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, said on Wednesday. “That’s a thing that I think we can change.”
He added, “People aren’t going to want to interact with one single super intelligent A.I. — people will want to interact with a bunch of different ones.”
Meta is aiming to keep pace with OpenAI, Google, Microsoft and other companies in the frenzied race over A.I. that can instantly generate text, images and other media on its own. Since November, when OpenAI unexpectedly launched the chatbot ChatGPT, Silicon Valley executives have embraced the technology as the next big shift in computing — and struggled not to be left behind.
For Meta, widespread acceptance of its new A.I. products could significantly increase engagement across its many apps, most of which rely on advertising to make money. More time spent in Meta’s apps means more ads shown to its users.
While Meta has worked on A.I. behind the scenes for years, it was initially slow to introduce products with generative A.I., especially as it focused on