Facebook is throwing its hat in the personal digital assistant ring with a new service called M.

It offers some of the same functionality as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Now… but M is different in a few ways.

facebook m

First, M is built into the Facebook messenger service: you use it by sending a message to M as if you were talking to a person. This means you should be able to use M on pretty much any device that supports Facebook Messenger.

Second, while other digital assistants can track your packages, make appointments, or read you the news, M can actually complete actions for you: Facebook says you can have M purchase items, book a restaurant reservation, make travel plans, and more.

Third, Facebook’s system isn’t just powered by software: human beings will “train” and “supervise” the artificial intelligence, and 9to5Mac reports that means some questions will actually be answered by people rather than software — although users won’t be told which responses are from humans and which are from machines.

There was a time when “personal digital assistant” meant a physical device like a Palm Pilot. Those devices replaced old-school address books, calendars, notepads, and other physical items which you’d use to scrawl words on paper.

These days smartphones and tablets can do that… and a lot more. But the phrase “personal digital assistant” is being applied to new types of software that respond to natural language to answer your questions, provide you with information, and complete simple tasks. In other words, new services like M actually act a lot more like actual assistants.

Worried that you’ll tell M to order a birthday present for your spouse and some random product will arrive at your door? M is a little more complicated than that.

Instead, when you ask M a question, it will respond with follow-up questions to help you make decisions.

Traveling to a new city and looking for restaurant recommendations? M can tell you about popular options and ask if you’d like it to make a reservation.

Facebook is launching a limited trial of M

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3 replies on “Facebook’s M is a digital assistant baked into Messenger”

  1. We’re seeing the beginning of what I believe is an inevitable trend toward full-blown avatars which will not only be our online personal assistants, but will be our representatives for a wide range of online activities — like finding the best deal on a new car, for example.

    If done right, avatars could also be a good solution for protecting our privacy too, by allowing us to decide how much private information the avatar should disclose in the course of its work. For instance, when your avatar is looking for that car you want, a dealership might offer a better deal on condition that the avatar discloses your identity and some additional personal information. It would then be up to you and/or your avatar whether to accept the deal.

  2. Is this a search-based AI like Google Now and Cortana, or a “fancy name for speech recognition” like Siri?

  3. As if Facebook needs any more of my personal information. No, thanks.

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