QR Codes Sizzle, Smart Parts Fizzle And Facebook Bows Out Of AI Assistants

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.

M’s death was somewhat unremarkable.

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


QR codes: QR gets renewed vigor in mobile loyalty — specifically via coupon redemption. Turns out coupons are giving a lift to the code, to the tune of 1.3 billion coupons, as of 2017. From 1.3 billion coupons redeemed in 2017 to a projected 4 billion four years from now, as estimated by Juniper Research — call it QR’s redemption by redemption.

Connected devices, step by step: Showing off an increased toehold (pun intended) in connected devices — and connected fashion — Under Armour unveiled its latest duo of connected sneakers. This comes after three models were launched last year, with data as the soul of the sole. There’s Bluetooth and accelerometer and gyroscopes … oh my! Walking tall with Big Data, tracking fitness along the way.

Retail reconfiguration: Big box retailers who need the right size space to maximize sales per square foot may take a page from Kohl’s, which is leasing space to grocers and possibly even competitors. In a way, it’s a shift to the shelves, though not all of the 300 stores that are being downsized will change how they use their square footage. But it’s a signal that small is top-of-mind for management — and in retail, small might be big.



Cannabis coordination: Revocation of the Cole memo leaves the U.S. Department of the Treasury scrambling, especially FinCEN, because no one told them about it. Billions of dollars of cash tied to the cannabis industry might get unbanked. It’s an about-face for the Department of Justice, where the pot industry had been relatively left alone at least at the state level; and for some players in the arena, a bad trip may be in the offing.

Smart parts industry: The auto parts industry may get a shudder, or blow a gasket, as Amazon moves a bit deeper into the territory. Think smart products, where ordering becomes automatic when supplies dip past a certain level. The company is also unveiling a software kit for dash buttons, which means that screened devices will get a bit more … dashing.

Rising debt: With rising debt, comes rising worry. Lenders say they’re worried about the debt levels in place at SMBs compared to a year ago. Not much is left in the way of unencumbered assets against which to borrow. In a survey, Carl Marks Advisors said 76 percent of those queried were more concerned about leverage at middle-market firms than a year ago. Where once in the land of lending firms had free reign, might the FIs pull back the reins?



The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.