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Facebook shuts down personal assistant service M


by Aakriti Shrivastava

Facebook is shutting down its virtual text assistant M, after keeping it operational for over two years. The last day of M will be January 19, reports The Verge.

M users received messages from Facebook notifying them that the service is shutting down.

M was first introduced in August 2015, in what was called a response to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortona, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant. However, unlike these audio assist services, M was integrated in Facebook’s chat application Messenger. M combined real-human assistance and artificial intelligence to help users carry out a range of tasks.

Facebook told The Verge, that it launched this project to learn what people needed and expected of an assistant, and that it learned a lot. It added that, “We’re taking these useful insights to power other AI projects at Facebook. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of M suggestions in Messenger, powered by our learnings from this experiment.”

The service, as originally conceived, differentiated itself from the crowded field virtual assistants by fulfilling more advanced tasks like booking appointments, ordering flowers and dealing with customer service. However, failure to build AI technology to automate M, has reportedly led to its shut down. Despite Facebook’s vast resources, M allegedly never surpassed 30% automation.

AI at Facebook

Artificial Intelligence has been at the centre of Facebook’s research and many of its recent developments. Most recently, Facebook expanded its AI tool to prevent suicides outside of US (except the European Union). The social media giant is using pattern recognition to detect posts or live videos (Facebook Live) where someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide and to help respond to reports faster.

The company has rolled out this tool in March this year, but at that time a Facebook user or a Facebook friend was required to help the victim.

In July 2017, Facebook shut down another AI project when bots developed a new language and began using it for communication, defying provided codes.

Virtual Assistance

Virtual assistants are the hotbed of tech innovation these days, with giants Google and Amazon (and others) competing to outperform the others. In July, Google added eight Indian languages—Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu—to its audio search, leading us to the introduction of Google Home in India. Amazon is already shipping its Echo devices in India.

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