Facebook Announces Hybrid Virtual Assistant, M

by Istvan Fekete on August 27, 2015

Some lucky Bay Area Facebook users opening Messenger will be greeted my M, a new virtual assistant. Just as Apple did with Siri, M will prompt them to test it, giving some examples of what it can do: It can make a restaurant reservation, book a weekend getaway, or even find a birthday gift.

But there is much more than that, vice president of messaging products at Facebook David Marcus revealed to Wired. Fact is, M launches at a time when Siri and Google Now are doing a decent job and learning from millions of users every day.

As a result, Facebook has had to come up with something unique to lure away Siri and Google Now users, since you need to download an app to be able to access M. By comparison, if you hold down the home button on your Apple device, Siri will promptly listen to your command.

So how can Facebook make M competitive? As it turns out, there is a way – the hard way: By adding a human element. “It can perform tasks that none of the others can,” Marcus says. That’s because, in addition to using artificial intelligence to complete its tasks, M is powered by actual people.

M is a hybrid. It is a virtual assistant powered by not only artificial intelligence, but also a band of Facebook employees, dubbed M trainers, who are on the other side of Messenger and make sure every request is answered.

For now, M doesn’t have access to the social data Facebook collects to complete the task. It may, however, do that with “proper user consent”, Marcus says, when it becomes available to all Messenger users.

What makes M interesting is that it can, for example, make a call to your cable company and endure endless hold times and automated messages to set up your Wi-Fi or cancel your HBO subscription. That’s possible because a person is on hold on your behalf.

Hello M, you are both scary and exciting at the same time.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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