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Facebook launches 'M' virtual assistant driven by both human and artificial intelligence

Facebook on Wednesday launched "M," a text-based virtual assistant integrated with Facebook Messenger that unlike Siri, Cortana, or Google Now relies on both human and artificial intelligence to fulfill requests.

A contract team of "M trainers" is prepared to fulfill requests that the AI component can't answer, Wired reported. The AI currently lacks access to the social data Facebook normally collects, and so has to depend on earlier conversations and follow-up questions to respond. That could change, however, "with proper user consent," according to Facebook's VP of messaging products, David Marcus.

M is ultimately meant to be more powerful than rival assistants, for instance allowing people to get recommendations on vacations, restaurants, and presents and then follow through with bookings or purchases. It can even be used for tasks like holding a spot in the phone queue of a cable company.

Marcus said that Facebook eventually expects to hire thousands of M trainers, although captured data will be used to make M's AI more resilient, which may in turn limit the need for human labor.

The assistant should generate money for Facebook in a number of ways, one being partnerships with businesses. Marcus returned to the cable company example, suggesting that a lot of call demands might lead to a company opting for a direct presence in Messenger.

M is currently only available to residents of California's Bay Area, an intentional move to ensure commonality between M trainers and the people making requests. The product will eventually be offered to all Messenger users.