Facebook is currently providing a few lucky users with the opportunity to test M, its new digital assistance service that combines human and artificial intelligence.
M is a feature available on Facebook’s Messenger App, which is being beta-tested by around 200 random users from San Francisco. It has been likened to Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now, Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri, but what distinguishes it from the rest is its ability not just to keep you company, but to actually help you out.
According to David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, M can `purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments, and way more’.
An earlier version of the program was Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger, which was conceived as an intermediary between businesses and users. Tests have been conducted on M for several weeks, and as WIRED reports, one of the most popular assignments it has received so far was to deal with the cable company on the phone. This may mark the beginning of several partnerships between Facebook and major companies, so that they are actually integrated within the app and provide direct support to their customers.
The uniqueness of the add-on lies in the fact that it is partially human-assisted hybrid, which means that not all tasks are completed purely based on artificial intelligence. What makes M special is that it is `being trained and supervised` by real people. In fact, Facebook contractors known as `M trainers` sometimes handle personalized requests, while keeping a neutral behavior, so that it can’t be clearly determined if one is dealing with a computer or a human being.
On the other hand, a disadvantage of this functionality is that it is mostly text-based and completely integrated within the Messenger app, instead of having greater autonomy and flexibility. Also, when asking M a question the user has to provide a detailed coherent sentence, to which only one answer is given. In contrast, if one were to use regular search engines, just a few key words would be sufficient and several alternatives would be provided almost instantaneously.
Recently, the social network added other features to enhance Messenger’s usefulness, such as the possibility to issue payments via the app or to make video calls. It even allowed registration solely upon providing a phone number, without having to open a Facebook account. As a result, the service has been expanding progressively, after already tripling in less than 2 years and reaching 700 million users.
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