Facebook is diving into the digital personal assistant space, as the company unveiled a new service that simply goes by the name of M.
M is a personal digital assistant that will be included within Messenger that can complete tasks and search for information in behalf of the user. The service is currently in its testing stage, with M only accessible to a few hundred users living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The announcement was made by David Marcus, Facebook's VP of messaging products, through a post on the social network. Marcus added that M is powered by artificial intelligence, which is being trained and supervised by people.
"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 in the Facebook post.
The difference between M and other digital personal assistants currently out in the market is that it can actually complete the tasks for the user. For example, while other digital personal assistants can only recommend items to purchase as a gift for a loved one, M will be able to place the order itself and have it sent to the person.
These functions, made possible with artificial intelligence technology, will be automated by M. According to a report by Business Insider, Facebook has also employed a few dozen people which are now known as M trainers to handle the service.
The report states that the usage of humans by Facebook for M is surprising, as it goes against the trend in the tech industry of fully automating processes that were once done by humans.
With Messenger having 700 million users, Facebook will hire even more M trainers in the feature as the digital personal assistant is rolled out to wider markets, with Marcus telling Wired that he expects thousands of M trainers to be hired as contract workers as the project progresses.
At some point in the future, the artificial intelligence technology of M is expected to become smart enough to eliminate the need for a large number of M trainers, as M will then increase its share of the workload. As such, the M trainers are temporarily hired to be able to fine tune and guide M's artificial intelligence until it can work fine with as minimal human support as possible.
It is important to note, however, that M will not be using data that has been collected by the social network over the years, as the digital personal assistant will only be using information that the user provides through current and previous conversations with M. The user will also not know if the task was varried out by M's artificial intelligence or an M trainer.
The artificial intelligence technology that is powering M was developed by Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research, a team within the company that has Yann LeCun, a deep learning expert, as its leader.
Facebook's M is free, and will be available through Facebook Messenger soon.