Virtual assistant

Facebook is launching a virtual assistant that combines artificial intelligence (AI) technology with a team of human helpers, to compete with services such as Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Facebook M will sit within the social network’s Facebook Messenger app, with people interacting with it using messages as if it were one of their friends.

“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,” explained Facebook’s messaging boss David Marcus, in a post on the social network.

“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 M is currently in tests internally and with a few Facebook users, with no confirmed launch date to roll it out to the 700 million users of Messenger.

Screenshots published by Marcus show sample queries including “Can you help me order flowers for my mom’s birthday?”; “Where’s the best place to go hiking in the Bay Area?”; and “Is there a dog-friendly beach nearby?”

An interview with Wired provided more details on how the service will work, including its human “trainers” who’ll tune M’s ability to respond to requests:

“Facebook’s M trainers have customer service backgrounds. They make the trickier judgment calls, and perform other tasks that software can’t. If you ask M to plan a birthday dinner for your friend, the software might book the Uber and the restaurant, but a person might surprise your friend at the end of the night by sending over birthday cupcakes from her favorite bakery.”

In March, Facebook added a feature to the app enabling people to send payments directly to their contacts, while also launching an initiative called Businesses on Messenger to encourage companies to route their customer support through the app.

M is also part of Facebook’s wider exploration of AI technology. The company bought startup in January for its “incredible yet simple natural language processing API that has helped developers turn speech and text into actionable data” – features that are key to Facebook M.

Facebook also has a division called Facebook AI Research that sets out the social network’s ambitions. “We’re committed to advancing the field of machine intelligence and developing technologies that give people better ways to communicate,” explains its homepage.

“In the long term, we seek to understand intelligence and make intelligent machines. How will we accomplish all this? By building the best AI lab in the world.”

Source The Guardian


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