We’d been hearing rumblings that Facebook was working on an “assistant” within Messenger (along with others), but today we’ve gotten the details that pull it all together. This puts the company squarely in competition with Apple, Google and Microsoft in the digital personal assistant space.
In a Facebook post, Facebook Messenger lead David Marcus spoke a bit about Facebook’s plans:
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. It’s powered by artificial intelligence that’s 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.
This is early in the journey to build M into an at-scale service. But it’s an exciting step towards enabling people on Messenger to get things done across a variety of things, so they can get more time to focus on what’s important in their lives.
Since Marcus joined Facebook, the Messenger product has been on lightspeed mode when it comes to development. Whether it be payments or a standalone site, the product seems like it’s getting way more attention than it ever has.
Apple has Siri, Google has Google Now, Microsoft has Cortana and Facebook has M. These companies are using the data that you’ve put into the service to help you out or suggest things based on what it knows about you. Putting the assistant inside of Messenger is smart, because people are used to tapping out messages to people, rather than speak commands like its competitors sometimes require.
The acquisition of Wit.ai back in January feeds the human side of the project, the “trained and supervised by people” part mentioned by Marcus.
While Google and Apple were caught up in the pure science of artificial intelligence, Facebook decided to brute force the development of a personal assistant with a bunch of human helpers.
It won’t be cheap. If Facebook wants to scale out this feature, it will either have to wait until its humans teach its AI to handle most requests automatically, or it will have to spend a fortune hiring an army of people to assist its assistant.
The rollout will more than likely be slow, but we’ll be keeping an eye out for it for a formal review.