Facebook is shutting down its text-based virtual assistant called ‘M’ that helped researchers train an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.
Facebook recently confirmed that the beta version Facebook M will be discontinued on January 19, though some features that the program inspired, including M suggestions, will continue.
In the last couple of years, Facebook has really pushed to take its Messenger app to the next level with chat bots and experiments like M, but adoption has been slow. M was only ever available to about 2,000 people in California, according to agency reports. Overall, it seems like Facebook concluded it wasn’t as efficient or appealing as it had hoped.
M is Facebook’s version of a virtual assistant, but mixed human operators with artificial intelligence in order to continually train the system. Facebook is discontinuing that human element — which was only available to around 2,000 people — and is offering staff other positions within the company. M Trainers worked alongside the software to assist the chatbot, which is able to handle tasks like booking an Uber or making dinner reservations.
As virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana grow in both popularity and features, the full Facebook M isn’t going to ever make it out of beta. Facebook M took a different approach by mixing A.I. and staff. What Facebook is keeping from the so-called experiment is M’s approach to making suggestions inside chats, with shortcuts for heading to your calendar when chatting weekend plans with a friend or a one-tap phone call when suggesting moving the conversation offline. The chatbot feature later expanded to also suggest GIFs and even some common responses.
Launched in 2015, the beta project eventually spawned widely available features like the M suggestions. While participants in the beta program could start up a chat with M directly, M suggestions are integrated into existing conversations. When chatting in Messenger, the M suggestions tool looks for keywords and then will offer related suggestions like “make a plan” or “request a ride.” While the original beta is closing, M suggestions are sticking around, according to the company.
At the launch, the company was hoping M would become a go-to for information. Facebook didn’t comment on why the beta Facebook M is shutting down after more than two years.