Facebook’s personal assistant experiment just got the ax before ever reaching a wide audience. 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.
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.
“We launched this project to learn what people needed and expected of an assistant, and we learned a lot,” a Facebook representative said in a statement to Digital Trends. “We’re taking these useful insights to power other A.I. projects at Facebook. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of M suggestions in Messenger, powered by our learnings from this experiment.”
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.