Virtual Assistant Technology provides us with cost savings and performance enhancement, and so it should come as no surprise that Facebook has just launched its own digital assistant, M, to a few hundred people – a new competitor to Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and Google Now. According to David Marcus, head of Facebook Messenger, “M is a personal digital assistant inside of Messenger that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf.” Powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by human intelligence, M is purported to be unlike any other AI-based services currently available in that it actually completes tasks on behalf of its users, purchasing items, having gifts delivered when necessary, making restaurant reservations, travel arrangements, appointments, and “way more.” M’s ambition, however, is greater than being only a personal assistant but is hoped to be a one-stop shop for mobile discovery.
Marcus, formerly of PayPal, is using his expertise to increase Facebook’s payment platform. As he told Wired magazine, “We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do. Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time.” If Facebook is about to make online purchasing transactions as quick and easy as they’ve made general web login (complete this three-page form, or sign in with Facebook), I’d say we’ve got a serious new e-commerce player in a prime position.
Best Friends Forever!
Another key quality that Facebook has is the amount of data we’ve all offered up. Undoubtedly, Facebook knows more about us all than any other social network platform, and all of this information is precisely what makes a digital assistant so useful. Google, Microsoft, and Apple certainly have access to some of our going-ons, and we’re always able to input that which they don’t, but Facebook is a veritable wealth of personal habits, likes and dislikes, spending behaviors, location minutiae, and more – there are many actual PAs who don’t have as much information about their bosses as Facebook has, and probably don’t want it, either.
The Human Element
Uniquely, the artificial intelligence aspect of Facebook M will be supervised by human beings, allowing it to do more than a standard digital assistant could. According to Dave Lee for the BBC, M’s work will be automated more over time as the system learns, helping expand the service, speed it up, and make it available to more people. It’s speculated that, for now, a team of people handles the more difficult and complex queries, explaining why increased automation will allow greater access to M.
How It Works
To access M, users will tap a button in Facebook’s Messenger app and send a note to M – as you might to any other Facebook friend. Thereafter, either M’s artificial intelligence or human colleague decodes the message, asks follow-up questions, and sends updates until the task is complete. Currently, M doesn’t use social data from Facebook, so tasks are completed based on answers users provide. After internal tests with Facebook employees it’s been found that one of M’s most popular functions was calling the cable company’s automated setup line, or HBO’s cancellation center, abandoning the long holds and automated messages to M’s patience.
There hasn’t yet been a date set for public rollout, but Facebook has said that their more than 700 million users will have free access to M via Messenger at some point. If you’re considering the benefits of this technology for your own organization, take a look at this free guide to Virtual Assistant Technology and the Contact Center.
By Jennifer Klossterman