Facebook recently announced that it would be shutting down the human-assisted part of its digital assistant, M, by January 19, 2018. Contractors involved in its working will be offered another job.
Launched in August of 2015 as its personal digital assistant, M was a part of the Facebook Messenger platform. It used human workers to train the built-in artificial intelligence system. M was, therefore, not completely dependent on computer automation, but was supported by a team of humans who could address complex queries the digital assistant would otherwise have to reject.
The assistance was made available through a bot in the Facebook Messenger app and around 2,000 people residing in California used it.
While a little late in joining its competitors, M, a text-based virtual assistant, served the same purpose as other digital personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now. Facebook product managers Laurent Landowski and Kemal El Moujahid, in a blogpost, had said, M uses artificial intelligence and “suggests relevant actions to help manage conversations or help get things done.” They continued that Facebook was “bringing the power of M’s AI technology to support and enhance the Messenger experience and make it more useful, personal and seamless.”
With the help of M, Messenger users would be able to simplify tasks such as sending money to friends, sharing location or obtaining a ride. With M, Facebook wanted to end the need for people to jump from one service to another by providing these several services on a single platform.
There is some respite for the M users though; it will live on for them through “M suggestions”. Facebook has confirmed that M’s core digital functions will remain online. The suggestions will be embedded in the Messenger which will be fully automated. These suggestions will assist the users in their tasks like sending payments, stickers, making plans. They will prompt the users to perform actions without leaving their chat.
However, the assistant was functionally limited and infrequently used by its few users. Bot-based messaging is yet to take off in the way envisioned by tech firms like Facebook and it is part of the reason why Facebook decided to shut M down.
Initially coined as a “beta”, Facebook had suggested that the digital assistant would be made available to more people over time. However, it never panned out and Facebook recently called it an experiment in lieu of shutting the service down. “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.”
It was recently reported that Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to focus on “meaningful interaction.” We are anticipating other “sweeping changes” that he brings in an overhaul of the company.