Move over Siri, here comes Facebook's personal concierge M

By MoneyTimes

Aug 31, 2015 09:02 AM EDT

Facebook gives Apple, Google, and other companies providing users with virtual assistants a run for their money. The company has launched M, a digital helper that makes use of artificial intelligence and human knowledge.

It's currently available only to Facebook users in the California Bay Area, and, as it gets better and better, the new service will roll out worldwide.

M, which is a function of the Facebook Messenger app, goes beyond what other virtual assistants can do. While Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, Android's Google Now, and Amazon's Echo use AI to link you to information on the Internet, M brings together AI and man to provide you with unparalleled digital service.

"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," David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook, said in a Facebook post.

To send a note to M, you have to tap a button at the bottom of the Messenger app. Your message will be decoded by M's software and, if it isn't simple enough to be acted upon by an AI, it will go through a human trainer with a customer service background.

No information from Facebook's social data will be used in deciding how to go about your request. Instead, M will base its suggestions upon your answers to follow-up questions as well as previous conversations you have had with the virtual assistant.

In the future, a more complex AI system using data collected from users will carry out much of the workload, reducing the need for human intervention. "M learns from human behaviors," said Marcus.

M's service is free, and Facebook can make money out of it by partnering with businesses receiving numerous inbound requests.

"If, for instance, you have a lot of calls that have to be placed by people to cable companies, 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", explains Marcus.

Marcus is former CEO of PayPal. He was hired by Facebook in June 2014 to lead its efforts in mobile messaging.

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