Facebook Tests Digital Assistant ‘M’ in Messenger

Sure, Microsoft's Cortana, Apple's Siri and Google Now can help you find a nearby Thai restaurant or send you a reminder to buy a housewarming gift for a friend. But none of those personal digital assistants can talk in person with the maƮtre d or go out and buy a set of grilling utensils . . . yet. That's where Facebook comes in with its new assistant, "M," now being tested as part of the social media giant's Messenger app.

M (rumor previously had it that Facebook's new offering would be named "Moneypenny" for the assistant in the James Bond stories) is part digital assistant, part on-call human concierge. It's powered by both automated artificial intelligence and real people who can handle physical tasks.

Unveiled yesterday M is currently available only to a limited number of people in the San Francisco area who will be able to test the service. Facebook employees have already been trying out M for such tasks as waiting on hold during service calls to their cable providers, according to a report in Wired.

Early in the 'At-Scale' Journey

"This is early in the journey to build M into an at-scale service," David Marcus, vice president of messaging products, noted in the latest update to his Facebook page. "But it's an exciting step towards enabling people on Messenger to get things done across a variety of things, so they can get more time to focus on what's important in their lives."

Engaging M's help will require users to first open Facebook's Messenger app on their devices. Unlike Cortana, Siri and Google Now, M at the moment does not respond to voice commands but uses text messaging to handle requests and send responses.

Screenshots posted by Marcus show M greeting a user with the message, "Hi! I'm M,...

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