Facebook launched a new virtual assistant this week called ‘M’ that is currently being tested by a select few Facebook Messenger users. They will be given the opportunity to experiment with the capabilities of M as a personal assistant.
M will work as an added function to the Messenger app and Facebook hopes users find it to be superior to other popular personal virtual assistants on the market today. Vice President of messaging products at Facebook, David Marcus, says the virtual assistant “can perform tasks that none of the others can.”
What makes M different than its rivals? According to Wired, M doesn’t only use artificial intelligence to complete tasks, but is also powered by human beings. While others like Siri and Cortana can help you find a place nearby to have dinner or can help you search for a special gift for a loved one, M can take it a step further and actually make reservations for you, or purchase a gift and have it gift wrapped and delivered. For some users, M may prove to be a much more valuable service.
Despite M’s uniqueness and clear advantages, M still faces challenges and has some disadvantages over other services. Namely, to use M, one would be required to open the Facebook Messenger app where other virtual assistants are default on their mobile device, meaning they are a quite a bit easier to access. Other virtual assistants will have quick and ready access to a user’s contacts, email, and location, whereas M will have access to Facebook contacts, which may be less convenient to some. M is also not voice enabled at this time.
There is also the cost of running M to consider. Marcus anticipates the need to hire thousands of people to operate M and this will require a large investment. Wired reported that “the company anticipates the cost will be offset by the revenue growth it is able to realize by capitalizing on M’s interactions.” However, whether M will be a profitable endeavor for Facebook probably won’t truly be known until the app ends its testing phase and goes live.