Facebook launches personal assistant for Messenger

Facebook launched 'M', its own human-powered personal assistant

Facebook's new virtual assistant for Messenger has been launched, dubbed 'M' after being previously codenamed 'Moneypenny'.

It was reported in July that Facebook was testing its own digital assistant, which would be an alternative to the likes of Apple's Siri, Google Now and Cortana.

At that time, it was rumoured that M would be a human-powered system that also incorporates artificial intelligence. It has now been confirmed by Wired that a team of "M trainers" will answer user questions, should the AI be unable to. As of now, it does not have access to Facebook's social data, but this could change with user consent, according to Facebook's VP of messaging products, David Marcus.

In time, the AI could become sophisticated enough to surpass the need for M's human element.

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"We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do," Marcus said. "Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that's an opportunity for us to [make money] over time."

This also invites comparisons to things such as Amazon's Echo hardware, which helps Amazon customers to look into and purchase products from its service. There is a question, however, of whether Facebook will make any money from this, or just use it as a way to collect more data from its users.

The company has come under fire in recent times for allegedly misusing users' data, with a lawsuit filed earlier in the year that claimed Facebook had been illegally tracking customer data.

The social network's policy in this area was dubbed a "Wild West" approach to data protection by campaigner Max Schrems, but his case was rejected by a Vienna court at the start of July, the court claiming it lacked the jurisdiction to examine the case.

Facebook Messenger currently offers person-to-person money transfers to US customers, something also available through other social media firms like Snapchat and Google's Gmail.

A separate Messenger website was recently launched to distance the IM service from the main Facebook site, after mobile users were forced to download a separate application for Messenger the previous year.

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M is currently available only to residents in the California Bay Area, USA, but will eventually roll out to all Messenger users.

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