Tech by VICE

Facebook's Personal Assistant Is Real, and You Can Talk to It Like a Friend

"It's powered by artificial intelligence that's trained and supervised by people."

by Matthew Braga
Aug 26 2015, 6:15pm

Image: Facebook

Recent rumours that Facebook was working on a Siri-like personal assistant have proven to be true. On Wednesday afternoon, the social network announced it has begun testing just such a service, simply called M.

"M is a personal digital assistant inside of Messenger that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf," reads a note by David Marcus, who works on Facebook's messaging team. "It's powered by artificial intelligence that's trained and supervised by people."

That artificial intelligence is the result of work done by Facebook's AI research lab, which was created at the end of 2013.

Users interact with M the same as they would any other Facebook Messenger contact, and can ask the assistant questions naturally, as you might talk to a friend. Marcus also wrote in his post that, rather than merely presenting information in response to queries, as most personal assistants currently do, M can make purchases; deliver gifts ordered online; and book restaurants, travel and other appointments.

In other words, it's not merely an assistant for digital tasks, like checking your mail or setting alarms—it can actually do real-world stuff too. The Information first reported that Facebook was working on such a feature in July.

Wired, which spoke with Marcus at length, described M as "a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence as well as a band of Facebook employees, dubbed M trainers, who will make sure that every request is answered."

Unsurprisingly, the sample questions in Facebook's screenshot all crib off information that is already contained within Facebook's social graph—shops that can delivery flowers to your mother, say, or the best places to go hiking and swim with your dog.

If you're looking to try M now, however, you'll have to exercise some patience. A Facebook spokesperson wrote via email that M is currently only available "to a small number of people in the Bay Area."

Maybe one of those testers can ask M when the rest of us can expect access too?