Facebook Closes M, Its Virtual Assistant
Facebook Closes M, Its Virtual Assistant
Written by Sue Gee   
Tuesday, 09 January 2018

Facebook is shutting down M, its virtual assistant that relies on help from humans to handle users' questions and requests. Launched in limited beta almost two and a half years ago, it was only ever offered to around 10,000 Facebook Messenger users in the San Francisco area.


Announcing Facebook M in August 2015, David Marcus, who heads Facebook's Messenger Team, posted:

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.



While it users were happy with the service provided by M, it proved impossible to scale due to a huge imbalance between what could be achieved by AI and what had to be undertaken by humans. While their role was officially that of M Trainers, in fact the team of contractors, which included the 10-person startup Wit.ai that Facebook acquired in January 2015, ended up responding 24/7 to queries from its users, booking holiday and restaurant reservations, buying products, and completing many other tasks beyond the capabilities of virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa.

Wit.ai founder Alex Lebrun who started the project explained at its outset:

 "We wanted to start with something more ambitious, to really give people what they’re asking for."

The project demonstrated that algorithms could indeed learn to do some of the work being done by the humans powering the assistant but it was far to expensive to scale to all Facebook Messenger users. Lebrun commented last year: 

“We knew it was a huge challenge, but it’s even bigger than I thought. The learning rate, the growth of the automation—we’ve seen that it would be slower than we hoped."

M will cease to offer its personal service on January 16th. Its legacy will be M Suggestions, described as:

an M-trained feature that hops into Messenger conversations and suggests certain actions based on context.

which can be seen as being at the nuisance end of the spectrum of interactions users have with their virtual assistants.

Facebook says it will offer new roles to the contractors who manned the M service. Plenty of openings are available as it in the process of adding 4,000 content moderators to its current staff of 3,500.


More Information

Facebook Is Shutting Down M, Its AI Concierge

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