The secret to Facebook’s new Siri competitor? People.

Facebook just launched a new digital assistant on Wednesday — think Apple’s Siri, Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana. But the secret to Facebook’s new program, dubbed “M,” is refreshingly human.

In fact, much like soylent green, it’s people.

“It’s powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by people,” David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at the social network, said in a post to Facebook announcing M. The service is integrated into Facebook’s Messenger app and is being tested by a limited group of users.

The goal is to create a digital assistant that goes a step further than tracking down information. “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,” Marcus wrote.

But doing that requires some leg work.

“The AI tries to do everything,” Alex Lebrun, the founder of a startup Facebook picked up to help build M, told Wired. “But the AI is supervised by the people.”

The approach points to one of artificial intelligence’s major problems: It needs a lot of help figuring out what people actually want. That’s where “trainers” come in: When M fields a request, is tries to figure out a response. But that response goes to actual people at Facebook who see if anything else needs to be done to actually complete a request before sending the result along to users.

In the long term, the idea is that the system will “learn” how to complete more and more kinds of requests on its own as it collects more data about how to do things. But until then, it’s humans who are helping out.

Source: The secret to Facebook’s new Siri competitor? People.

Via: Google Alerts for AI