M relies on artificial intelligence and human assistance.
Facebook announced a personal digital assistant today dubbed “M,” emulating the popular fictional character in Ian Fleming's James Bond. David Marcus, former PayPal CEO and currently Vice President of Messaging at Facebook, broke the news in a post on the social network.
“Today we're beginning to test a new service called M. M is a personal digital assistant inside of Messenger that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf,” Marcus said.
But unlike Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, Facebook's M relies on artificial intelligence and a team of experts, making it a hybrid digital assistant. Yes, Facebook hired real people to train M and accomplish complex tasks that can only be completed by humans.
M takes it further by completing the requests submitted by Facebook users. Artificial intelligence will handle basic queries, such as where to find the nearest restaurant or what service to contact for vacations or parties. But real people will finish the tasks. This includes picking the best flowers for the occasion or buying the right cake.
“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 added.
M works on Facebook Messenger. Users can tap a small button on the tap to write their requests or inquiries. M will then decode what is written and ask follow-up questions. M will also send your questions to a human trainer, who will decide what must be done.
Facebook's main goal is to train M to handle more complicated tasks. For now, M will rely on human trainers to get the job done. The only disadvantage here is that users will need to download the Facebook Messenger app to use M, contrary to Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, which are all integrated into the operating system.
But if Facebook can make M super-efficient, it can eventually convince its millions of users to use it. Regarding costs, M will be free. But Facebook estimates that the costs involved will be covered by the potential revenues M will generate in the long run.
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M is now available to a few Facebook users in the Bay Area. It will slowly roll out globally. M was developed by Wit.ai, an AI startup that Facebook acquired earlier this year. Facebook nabbed one of the best teams in the world at human-to-AI interactions, says Marcus.