Siri (iPhone), Google Now (Android), Cortana (Microsoft), and Alexa (the voice of the Amazon Echo) have turned everyday devices into personal assistants. What makes these devices unique is its voice recognition capabilities. Speech recognition has been around since the 1950s. Because of the complexity of human language, the first voice pattern was only able to learn numbers. Over the past several years, developments in technology and software have opened the door to expand on voice recognition.
All these devices can instantly answer a person’s question regarding trivia, weather, news, and stocks and can even tell its user a joke. These products rely entirely on technology, and though they can be used by many people, they still have a long way to go. However, what these personal assistants lack in ability is where Facebook’s M picks up.
M is 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. M’s software will decode the natural language, ask follow-up questions in the message thread, and send updates as the task is completed. Users won’t necessarily know whether a computer or a person has helped them; unlike Siri and Cortana, M has no gender. To access M, users go through Facebook Messenger app. Similar to how you would send a message to anyone on Facebook, the user taps the bottom in Messenger, and it will send a note to M.
It’s not hard to imagine the business opportunities that M could bring to Facebook. For one, should Facebook discover a business is getting lots of inbound requests, it could partner with that company to offer a more direct, efficient service over Messenger. For instance, you have a lot of calls that have to be placed by people to cable companies; this is an indicator that customers would like another way to connect with the company, and M offers that interaction. Facebook is hoping that users will forget Siri and Google for M.
The only setback for users: M is currently in the test phase. It has been released to a few hundred random Messenger users in the San Francisco Bay Area. The service will expand slowly over time and will eventually reach everyone. As this happens, the array of tasks it performs will certainly grow. Some believe Facebook may be too ambitious, but M’s success would make Facebook a bigger player in several areas: data collection and mobile and voice search, as well as the increasingly competitive messaging app space.