Facebook’s “M” digital assistant service will live inside Facebook Messenger, which is used by more than 700 million people.
The world’s largest tech companies, like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, want to make completing everyday chores as simple as asking a question of a digital assistant.
Now add Facebook to that list.
The social network announced on Wednesday that it is testing a new service called M, an artificially intelligent digital assistant that helps a person do simple tasks, like ordering flowers or making reservations at a restaurant. The service will live inside Facebook Messenger, the company’s popular communication app used by more than 700 million people; users text or dictate questions to M, which can respond accordingly and, in some cases, offer items to purchase or recommend places to go.
Facebook’s service arrives in the increasingly crowded — though still nascent — field of digital assistants, each with a different spin on how customers interact with the services they offer. Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled assistant, is integrated into the iPhone and responds to verbal commands and requests. Google Now uses algorithms to deliver information you may need throughout the day (think weather alerts or traffic updates). Cortana from Microsoft and Echo from Amazon can do much the same thing.
In the meantime, start-ups like Operator or Magic are taking a human-powered approach with their apps, fulfilling requests from users with real live customer service representatives. Facebook’s approach is a hybrid of the two, using algorithms as well as paid employees to train M into delivering more intelligent results.
For now, M is available only to a small test group of people. But Facebook’s ultimate ambitions, like other tech companies, are much broader.
“This is early in the journey to build M into an at-scale service,” David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “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.
© The New York Times 2015