Facebook launches ‘M’ virtual assistant for messenger app

MENLO PARK, Calif., Aug. 29 (UPI) — Social giant Facebook on Friday unveiled a virtual assistant for its messenger application, called ‘M’ — which effectively acts as a personal concierge, like Apple’s Suri, company officials said.

Hundreds of Facebook users, who have been anticipating the personal assistant for some time, finally got a look at the new feature Friday. Right now, the beta run is limited to few hundred users in the San Francisco Bay area — just north of the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

‘M’ is the company’s first real foray into the virtual assistant market — which already has Apple’s, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now.

“Unlike other [artificial intelligence]-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments, and way more,” said David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products.

Facebook’s new digital assistant is based on the premise of improving users’ communication, but the company says it’s designed to be better. Part of the design, they say, is making ‘M’ a hybrid program that involves both artificial intelligence and human intelligence.

“M is a personal digital assistant inside of Messenger that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf. It’s powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by people,” Marcus said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more,” he added.

Friday’s launch of ‘M’ is Facebook’s latest attempt to increase interactive communication among users. Founder Mark Zuckerberg has previously said one of the company’s goals is to improve the way people communicate.

Shares of Facebook (Sym: FB) rose $1.28 in trading on the NASDAQ Friday, to $91.02 (1.43 percent). The company’s stock has risen $14 per share since the start of trading Monday.

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