Recently, the digital world has seemed like a crowded job fair, with multiple tech companies waving their resumes in your face asking to be your virtual assistant. The latest entry comes from Facebook, which is throwing its hat in the ring with M, a virtual assistant that (or should I say who?) is currently being beta tested with a small number of users in the Bay Area, according to Wired.
Facebook is introducing M as part of its Messenger apps, where users can ask M to do things like make restaurant reservations, find and book travel arrangements, and so on. Like Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana, M relies on artificial intelligence but also calls on real people, the “M trainers,” to help make sure every query gets a relevant answer.
Essentially it sounds like the “M trainers” are there to help M learn faster and avoid mistakes on obscure or unusually worded queries, giving it a shortcut through areas where automated semantic analysis and machine learning may still fall short. Facebook hopes the addition of the human element will make M more powerful than its rivals, giving it a leg up in its struggle with rival apps for mobile users’ attention.
Of course, as Apple’s Siri already knows (clever imp that she is) a good number of queries involve purchase intent, so inserting itself into mobile task assistance would give Facebook an entrée to more advertising and e-commerce dollars. However the service doesn’t currently draw on data from Facebook, for example by scanning your profile to determine what kind of restaurant to recommend -- although this could happen at some point, Wired reports, provided the user consents.
Facebook has been working to expand the functionality of its Messenger apps with new capabilities. These moves include an update to its Messenger service that gives the recipient background information on the sender. Facebook is also looking into bringing casual games to Messenger, and in April it introduced free mobile video calling as part of mobile Messenger app. In March Facebook introduced person-to-person payments, enabling users to send money to friends via Messenger.