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Facebook's AI Will Need A Human Element, At Least At First

Facebook's M digital assistant gets help from humans to give it more capabilities than Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana.

By Evan Thomas | August 27, 2015

Facebook is taking the wraps off its own digital assistant. M, as it's called, is built into the Facebook Messenger app.

M will answer conversational questions, and Facebook engineers say it will learn more about user preferences and improve interaction as time goes on.

M will dig out places to get burgers or fetch tomorrow's weather — standard AI-helper stuff — but also book appointments, buy gifts and arrange travel.

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This is thanks to human customer service staff that help M along. Facebook officials say there could soon be thousands of these contractors powering the service. (Not like that.) (Video via Warner Bros.)

M uses machine learning to get better at listening and interaction the same way Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana do, but M adds humans to give it more — and more nuanced — capabilities. (Video via AppleMicrosoft)

Earlier rumors likened it to a concierge service. Facebook reps say that's accurate, in that it will ask follow-up questions and drill down to the intent of queries.

"Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that's an opportunity for us to [make money] over time."

And if users start feeding M more interactions, it could be a chance for Facebook to gain more ground in search.

Right now its playing catch-up in a space where Google and Microsoft's Bing already feed data to their respective assistants. Officials say M won't tap into the collected data of Facebook's users — at least not at first. (Video via Google)

For now, M is in very limited release: on a few hundred phones somewhere in San Francisco. According to Facebook, it will eventually roll out the service to all Messenger users. (Video via Facebook)