Facebook’s AI assistant, known simply as M, will now pop into your Messenger chat windows to suggest actions it can take on your behalf, the company announced today. The feature is rolling out to iOS and Android users in the US, with a broader expansion around the globe in the coming months. Facebook first began testing this feature in December, and it appears ready to be unleashed on the public.
The current system works by analyzing your conversation and looking for key words to trigger M’s suggestive capabilities. Those capabilities include sending stickers on your behalf, initiating payment requests through Messenger, calling a ride-hailing app like Uber and Lyft, starting a poll for group chat participants, and sharing your location with others. M will also look for key words that suggest you’re trying to make plans with a friend and jump in to help coordinate that. These suggestions will pop up in the chat window with the signature M logo to let you know when you can tap on them to take the action.
This isn’t the official launch of M, which remains in an invite-only beta period. M first began in the summer of 2015 as a standalone AI assistant that you could chat with independently. The software is linked with a team of real humans who oversee conversations, annotate data to improve M through machine learning techniques, and step in to take over when necessary if the task involved, say, placing a phone call to Amazon customer service. Because of how resource-intensive all of that is, Facebook has yet to expand the standalone M to the broader public. (As a member of the M beta test, I still have access to the assistant. I asked yesterday if I could invite more users to try M and the chatbot politely declined my request.)
M suggestions, on the other hand, seem to be the fruit of all that beta testing labor. By analyzing the multitude of conversations and requests its handled over the last 18 months or so, M has improved to the point where Facebook feels confident in letting it handle lightweight automation responsibilities on its own. It’s all an extension of the social network’s grander bot ambitions, which seek to layer in very subtle, yet powerful predictive capabilities powered by an understanding of human language.
In Messenger, this won’t be the kind of AI you’d actively tap for distinct tasks, like translating English to Mandarin, or categorizing your photos by the contents of the image. Rather, it’s going to weave its way into your everyday conversations and try to be useful when appropriate. Of course, if you’re not interested in having some random chatbot slide into your private conversations, you can mute the software in the settings panel, Facebook says. You can also mute certain suggestions so they don’t continuously pop up if you’d like to only use M for stickers and not Uber requests.