Facebook Tests Digital Assistant ‘M’

Sure, Microsoft‘s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Now can help you find a nearby Thai restaurant or send you a reminder to buy a housewarming gift for a friend. But none of those personal digital assistants can talk in person with the maître d or go out and buy a set of grilling utensils . . . yet. That’s where Facebook comes in with its new assistant, “M,” now being tested as part of the social media giant’s Messenger app.

M (rumor previously had it that Facebook’s new offering would be named “Moneypenny” for the assistant in the James Bond stories) is part digital assistant, part on-call human concierge. It’s powered by both automated artificial intelligence and real people who can handle physical tasks.

Unveiled yesterday M is currently available only to a limited number of people in the San Francisco area who will be able to test the service. Facebook employees have already been trying out M for such tasks as waiting on hold during service calls to their cable providers, according to a report in Wired.

Early in the ‘At-Scale’ Journey

“This is early in the journey to build M into an at-scale service,” David Marcus, vice president of messaging products, noted in the latest update to his Facebook page. “But it’s an exciting step towards enabling people on Messenger to get things done across a variety of things, so they can get more time to focus on what’s important in their lives.”

Engaging M’s help will require users to first open Facebook’s Messenger app on their devices. Unlike Cortana, Siri and Google Now, M at the moment does not respond to voice commands but uses text messaging to handle requests and send responses.

Screenshots posted by Marcus show M greeting a user with the message, “Hi! I’m M, your personal assistant in Messenger. You can reach me here anytime!” A request to find a gift for friends having a baby — “They already have a bunch of clothes and toys,” the user noted — prompted M’s reply, “What about shoes?” M’s response was also accompanied by a photo of baby shoes, a link to a retailer, a price and the option of clicking a “Get” button.

Blending AI and the ‘Gig’ Economy

M would appear to be a natural fit for Facebook’s Messenger Business platform, which is designed to enable retailers and other companies to communicate directly with customers via mobile devices throughout the browsing, ordering and delivery process.

Messenger’s user base has grown to 700 million people each month, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted earlier this year. He has said that Facebook aims to grow usage of Messenger “organically” at first before focusing on ways to monetize the offering.

However, the big challenge with M will be handling costs and logistics on the human side, according to some observers. All the leading tech firms have become increasingly proficient at providing relevant automated assistance via artificial intelligence, but managing a large population of human workers for real-world tasks will require a different kind of set up, more akin to those offered by companies like TaskRabbit and other “gig” service providers that focus on specific communities.




Source: Facebook Tests Digital Assistant ‘M’

Via: Google Alerts for AI