This past Friday on August 28th Facebook finally gave an answer to the world with the announcement of their virtual assistant ‘M’ for the messenger app. This is no doubt a bold answer to prevalent virtual assistant’s already in the market such as the likes of Siri, Google Now and Cortana.
‘M’ is the company’s first real foray into the virtual assistant market — which already has Apple’s, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now. Right now, ‘M’ is in beta phase and only available to a limited few hunder users in the San Francisco Bay area — just north of the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. 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. 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.
The social network is trying out M, an artificial intelligence-powered Messenger assistant that can answer questions and complete tasks. You can ask it for advice on places to go, for instance, or have it make travel arrangements. Think of it as a Siri- or Cortana-like helper that exists solely in text chat. Facebook has been dramatically expanding the role of Messenger as of late, turning it from a basic communication tool into a platform for everything from games to money transfers. It only makes sense that the company would take the next logical step and make Messenger the go-to place to get many tasks done.
M is a hybrid. It’s a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence as well as a band of Facebook employees, dubbed M trainers, who will make sure that every request is answered. Facebook’s goal is to make Messenger the first stop for mobile discovery. But unlike its competitors Facebook starts at a disadvantage on mobile because it doesn’t have its own operating system, and therefore users must download an app, and then open it.
To try the new service, users will tap a small button at the bottom of the Messenger app to send a note to M, the same way they might message anyone on Facebook. M’s software will decode the natural language, ask followup questions in the message thread, and send updates as the task is completed. Users won’t necessarily know whether a computer or a person has helped them; unlike Siri and Cortana, M has no gender.
It’s safe to say that most of Messenger’s 700 million users around the world aren’t looking to book an Uber for a friend’s birthday party or choose between Cancun and Maui for February break. Will M be as good at helping users in the Bronx access food stamps? How about coming to the aid of the single mother in Oklahoma who has a last-minute childcare issue?
So now lets wait and see till ‘M’ rolls out across the globe and what the future holds for this hybrid virtual assistant solution in comparison with already established pure virtual assistants like Siri, Google Now and Cortana.