Facebook is getting in on the digital assistant game currently occupied by the likes of Google Now, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana. But the social network is taking a different approach with M, the name of its virtual pal. This little helper waits around inside Messenger to answer your questions, and in those instances when its algorithms can't come up with a solution, there are real people working behind the scenes who can.
That's right, Facebook says that M's artificial intelligence is trained and supervised by real people. This partially confirms the Moneypenny rumor circulating last month that the company was developing a digital assistant of its own. M doesn't just provide facts and general information, it can help you place orders and reservations in locations around town. Facebook wants the experience to feel more thorough, and more helpful.
Generally when virtual assistants fail, users fallback to opening up a search engine and looking for their answer the old-fashioned way. In the case of M, this would send users away from Facebook and towards the likes of Google or Microsoft. If you put real people on the backend to take over at those opportunities, you can keep people inside Messenger. That increases Facebook's chances of making money over time.
Wired reports that M will become available to a few hundred users in the San Francisco Bay Area starting today. We'll see where things go from there.