Facebook’s new virtual assistant called “M” is earning rave reviews from the testers who are using it. M can can arrange for takeout to be delivered. It can warn you about bad weather. And, it is reported that it can obtain hard-to-find items, like certain movie tickets.
At this point in its development, M can do just about everything an actual human personal assistant can do - except physically, of course.
As Facebook begins to roll out M, the company is behind it 100%. Success of M means that people will keep using Facebook Messenger and hopefully it will inspire people to do their shopping within the program. A virtual assistant that can make this easy for users will help Facebook’s growth efforts.
The reason M is so advanced is because it is powered by software and human operation.
Since the artificial intelligence (AI) technology behind M is still in its early stages, human operators handle the majority of the interactions with the assistant’s users. According to Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, the AI technology is still learning basic responses to users’ popular requests.
As Schroepfer explains, “It’s primarily powered by people. But those people are effectively backed up by AIs. The idea here is, you can ask it any question, not just the set of questions that it’s capable of. The thing that’s cool about this is it gives us a much wider training set, like what are the things people actually want it to help them.”
Currently, Facebook is training M to learn by example from what the human trainers teach it.
Eventually, the plan is for M to know enough to “operate without a human handler.” Facebook’s researchers and developers are building neural networks - networks that assist machines to act and think like humans - and many of these networks are already firing within M.
Schroepfer adds that, “The reason this is exciting is it’s scalable. We cannot afford to hire operators for the entire world to be their personal assistant.”
The efforts expended by the company on M are part of a much larger plan to become a leader in AI and deep learning. Perfecting, or at least harnessing AI can personalize Facebook’s service. In trying to accomplish this, the company has pulled out all the stops. It has recruited Yann LeCun, one of the world’s top deep learning experts, to run its AI division as well as the eight-person team from the machine-learning company Wit.ai, which Facebook acquired earlier this year.
By making Facebook personalized and smarter, the company can get people to use it longer and more regularly. If M becomes the personal assistant of choice for people, they will use the program for more than just posting photographs. People will theoretically have reason to use it every day.
Facebook joins the ranks of both Apple and Google in the fight to provide the personal assistant of choice.
Schroepfer adds that, “The promise I made to all the AI folks that joined us is, ‘We’re going to be the best place to get your work to a billion as fast as possible.’ We’re trying to make that promise [come] true.”