Facebook announces its own version of Google Now, Siri and Cortana, though with a twist aimed at going beyond present day digital assistants

Facebook now jumps onto the virtual assistant bandwagon with its new virtual assistant dubbed as ‘M’. The social networking giant has started rolling out the new digital assistant on a trial basis for Android and iOS. This puts M to go head on against the likes of Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana.

And just like its rivals, M acts as your personal assistant which can perform a slew of tasks for users such as weather updates, set reminders and alarms, notify users of an upcoming baseball game and so forth. However, M is not yet compatible with voice commands hence it only responds to inputs via typing that are displayed in a text format.

Though what it does which others do not is its ability to complete tasks on a user’s behalf, according Facebook’s Head of messaging apps David Marcus.

β€œIt can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more,” said Marcus.

Apparently, such customer oriented tasks aren’t something other virtual assistants offer. Marcus explains that M can do so because it doesn’t rely on AI specifically to answer queries. Instead, it relies on old school customer service representatives known as M trainers to answer user queries.

He further adds that M can save users from the perils of hold and automated messages. As one of the most popular requests from the company’s employees was to make M call their cable company in order to avoid those annoying automated hold times.

In addition, Facebook will be adding a human element to the virtual assistant, which will allow a team of humans to handle some of the questions, that AI can’t answer. The whole idea is to go beyond present day virtual assistants, aimed at offering users an experience that defines a true digital assistant. Giving them the opportunity to do things like having their gifts delivered, book a cab, or for that matter organizing a dinner on your friend’s birthday.

β€œM learns from human behaviors,” says Marcus.

The service has been initially rolled out to users in the California Bay Area on Wednesday. As a few hundred users have been given access to the app who can tap on a new button in Facebook’s Messenger to send a request directly to M.

While those of you wondering if Facebook’s M has anything to do with James Bond’s boss, no there’s no apparent connection between the two.

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