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Facebook has a new AI assistant to take on the likes of Siri

Reuters/Dado Ruvic
Pay no attention to the humans behind the curtain.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The future of artificial intelligence apparently still involves humans.

Facebook is running a small trial of a new service built into Messenger, a virtual assistant called M. The system will be a mix of artificial intelligence and human supervisors who will check to make sure every query is answered.

David Marcus, who oversees Messenger at Facebook, says the system is ”powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by people.” In an announcement posted to Facebook today (Aug. 26) about the trial, here’s how he describes the service:

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.

Facebook/David Marcus
M in action.

M will initially be available to a few hundred people in California’s Bay Area, Wired reported. Users will be able message M to book restaurants, or to suggest birthday gifts for friends from within Messenger.

Messenger has tripled its users to over 700 million during Marcus’ tenure. If M proves to be a useful addition, it could further boost the time users spend on the app. But there’s steep competition: Apple or Android users already can hold down the home button on their respective devices to talk to Siri or Google Now—which is a lot easier than going into an app and typing in a question.

Meanwhile, there are several other companies looking to corner the AI-assistant market, including, viv, and Operator, all of which could be competing with Facebook for space on users’ home screens.

Early reports of this project suggested that M would be called Moneypenny—James Bond’s witty assistant—so it’s interesting that it actually shares a name with 007’s boss.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of M is the message Facebook is sending about it from the start: AI assistants still need human intervention to work properly—for now at least.

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