Facebook M personal assistant unites AI with human helpers

27 Aug 2015

Facebook has announced the initial testing of M, its new personal assistant that will appear in Messenger, that not only uses its own in-house artificial intelligence (AI) but also a team of in-house humans.

A select few Silicon Valley-ites will find their Facebook Messenger app containing a new and rather interesting feature that wants to put a new spin on the virtual personal assistant (VPA), called Facebook M.

Similar to any of the well-established VPAs like Siri, Cortana or Google Now, M will look to take over your calendar and use machine learning to develop a more ‘personal’ assistant but, unlike the established systems, humans will also be recruited to help you.

According to Wired, Facebook are recruiting a team of humans – called M trainers – to double-check and guide its ever-developing AI contained within M and make sure nothing goes astray.

Incredibly, Facebook expects to hire thousands of these M trainers for the VPA to facilitate it potentially being used by Facebook Messenger’s 700m-plus users.

Facebook says M will not pull information from the user’s Facebook feed to determine what would be the best answer to their question, rather, it will gather data obtained entirely within M from the questions it asks you.

Human judgement will give it an edge

Facebook’s VP of messaging, David Marcus, has said that Facebook employees have been using M internally for several weeks now and is already boasting that “it can perform tasks that none of the others can”.

While M’s AI can perform all the tasks we are used to seeing from VPAs, such as setting a reminder or booking an online service, the M trainers will supposedly take it a step further and use human judgement to, say, send a friend a nice gift.

Eventually, Marcus believes, M will begin to connect with businesses to aim people towards their services, most likely with the human element.

“If, for instance, you have a lot of calls that have to be placed by people to cable companies,” Marcus said in an interview. “That’s a pretty good signal that their customers would actually like a better way to interact with the company and maybe they should have a presence inside of Messenger directly.”

While not giving a set date for its launch, Facebook will begin a slow rollout once it finishes testing the service publically in its native San Francisco Bay area.

Facebook Messenger app image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic