Facebook’s M Fizzles
While most of the week was dedicated to the cohort of players at The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) battling it out on the voice assistant playing field, one player decided to pack up their cleats and hit the showers early.
After two and a half years in the market, Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) virtual assistant “M” officially said goodbye.
At least in its current form.
From the start, M was a bit different from Alexa, Bixby and Google Assistant. It was text-based not voice-based, and it relied on human intelligence to train the AI system.
But not anymore.
M’s human help will be discontinued; the contractors who worked on it will be sent on to other projects serving other parts of the operation.
The project itself lives on in a new form: Instead of “chatting” directly with M, the virtual assistant will be a fully automated system that will — from a conversational context — prompt users with suggestions to make payments, schedule events and even send stickers to friends and family.
“We launched this project to learn what people needed and expected of an assistant, and we learned a lot,” the company said in a statement. “We’re taking these useful insights to power other AI projects at Facebook. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of M suggestions in Messenger, powered by our learnings from this experiment.”
The M Suggestions feature — the part of the AI that will live on — first rolled out last April on Facebook. M works by scanning for certain cues in a user’s conversation and then uses those cues to push contextually appropriate recommendations for that user — like offering to order an Uber or suggesting a piece of digital content for order.
Facebook has received some pushback on the project: Users complained about Facebook “reading” their private conversations to make those helpful suggestions. Facebook responded that the feature was not intended to be invasive. Instead, it aimed to make the private chat experience more productive.
They did not disable the feature or give customers an option to do so.
As for the most recent reset, and the coming changes to M, Facebook’s Head of Messenger David Marcus commented to Recode that M as an automated platform — as opposed to a chat interface — is best suited to meet consumer needs.
“The system learns from the things you like to do and you don’t like to do. If you don’t use the things that are being suggested for a specific use case, gradually those things will go away,” he said.
The Facebook team also shared that all messaging content will remain private and will not used for targeted advertisement.
Although announced with a good deal of buzz two years ago — around the same time chatbots were widely predicted to be the coming mobile app killer that was about to reset the digital ecosystem — the news that as of the Jan. 19 the service would be no more was mostly met with shrugs.
Who knew Facebook had a text-based AI assistant?
The consumer feedback on M is interesting. Consumers like talking to Alexa; asking Google or Bixby for help is like asking, well, a friendly assistant for help. Having an assistant inside a social network that consumers think is their private space that learns from those interactions may be a step too far.
The Weekly Round-Up
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