facebook-logoIt looks like the folks over at Facebook couldn’t stand being left out of the digital assistant market.  On August 26th, the social network announced that they are testing a Siri-like personal assistant that they are simply calling M.

The idea behind M is that it is a blend of artificial intelligence, similar to what gives Siri, Google Now and Cortana their power, but the difference here is with M, there will be the addition of human input.  With this special blend, Facebook feels that this combination will make their digital assistant better than the rivals.  M will have the ability to give recommendations about the best places to go eat, where to find that particular item to purchase from a brick and mortar store, or other local services.  But something special will be able to do is complete tasks like making a restaurant reservation or having an item delivered.

David Marcus, Facebook’s VP of messaging products, announced the test in a post on Facebook.

 “Today we’re beginning to test a new service called M. 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.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.

This is early in the journey to build M into an at-scale service. 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.”

Posted by David Marcus on Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Although the post by Marcus was short on details, Wired was given an advanced look at M.  Wired said that a test is being carried out by a group of a few hundred users in the Bay Area.  Eventually, M will be rolled out for all Messenger users.  The company has a team of M trainers to deal with the human input part of M sitting with Facebook engineers to help make sure users queries are answered.
Here is an excerpt of the Wired article that talks about Facebook’s motives for entering this market:

Facebook’s goal is to make Messenger the first stop for mobile discovery. Google has long had search locked up on the desktop: Right now, if I’m looking to treat my summer cold, and I’m in front of my laptop, I begin by googling “cold meds Upper West Side.” On mobile, however, I may pull up any number of apps -– Google, Google Maps, Twitter -– to find that out, or I may just ask Siri. Facebook starts at a disadvantage on mobile because it doesn’t have its own operating system, and therefore users must download an app, and then open it. Marcus hopes to make up for that by creating a virtual assistant so powerful, it’s the first stop for anyone looking to do or buy anything.

“We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do,” says Marcus. “Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to

[make money] over time.”

If M can provide a more efficient service than its competitors, Facebook can boost the number of people using it on mobile and eventually spur revenue from their transactions. That’s the kind of win-win Marcus was brought in to accomplish at Facebook, which in June 2014 hired him away from PayPal, where he had been CEO. In less than two years, Facebook has more than tripled Messenger’s users to 700 million.