Facebook today debuted a Messenger-based virtual assistant, with the moniker of “M.” The assistant, known under the codename of “Moneypenny” during development, debuted in a limited rollout to Facebook users in the Bay Area.
As explained in the original rumor, M isn’t just powered a computer parsing speech and trying to make sense of questions and commands. On the other side of the system is a group of human beings who can help answer queries when the machine is unable to.
Users will be able to chat with M just as they would any other Facebook contact, receiving follow-up questions to initial queries and requests, and will be given updates as a task is in the process of being completed. Ideally, users will be unable to discern if a human or a computer has handled their request.
While there may be some privacy concerns related to the service, Facebook has taken that into consideration. M is not allowed to access a user’s other Facebook activity, only having access to information you have explicitly made available in your conversations with the assistant.
Facebook says the human element of M allows it to do things other virtual assistants can’t, such as help you select gifts. However, that same human element could prove to be a bottleneck for the service, as the manpower needed for a country-wide rollout could prove staggeringly large.