As BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz reports, Facebook has officially decided to cease work on M, an AI chatbot assistant it launched in beta form in 2015. In this vision, M was a concierge designed to help you with … well, almost anything, and its secret was that not all of its intelligence was artificial. Facebook hired human beings to wrangle incoming requests from users and help fulfill them when software couldn’t do so on its own.
The death of this incarnation of M is not exactly a shocker. The project fell under the company’s Messenger group, which has already moved on from talking about building a general-purpose AI assistant to releasing ones designed to help with particular tasks, such as choosing stickers and coordinating takeout orders from restaurants. When I talked to Messenger honcho David Marcus about those features last April, he emphasized that they’d benefited from lessons the company learned while working on M in its original do-anything form. (I even referred to the M beta in the past tense when writing about the new features.)
The job-specific features inside Messenger also carry the M brand—and sure sound easier to roll out to 1.2 billion-plus Messenger users than the initial human-assisted flavor of M. So today’s news is less about the end of M than a formalization of the fact that Facebook’s goals have morphed as it—and the world—have thought more about digital assistants and their place in our lives.