Facebook takes human computer interaction to the next level

Meet M – Facebook’s very own personal assistant which sits on top of the Facebook messenger app. You can text ‘M’ like you are texting a friend and ask questions like ‘Can you make me dinner reservations?’ or ‘Purchase the new iPad for Jenny’s birthday’ and it can actually complete those tasks in addition to providing information.

Are you wondering how a machine can order stuff on your behalf? The virtual assistant is not truly virtual in this case. It is supervised by  a team of people at Facebook to answer questions it cannot and gather data it does not have. It formulates a response and sends it to the team who analyze it and approve its action (in case of purchase) or response before it sends it out to you. For example if you want to schedule an appointment for a driving test, you can simply text M. It will then convey it to a team at Facebook who actually makes the call to schedule it! Not kidding!

Now questions like speed and scalability come to mind. It is currently rolled out only to a few hundred facebook users. As long as it is done in a small scale, the idea of a team of people analyzing M’s responses seems feasible but what happens when it is rolled out to all of Facebook’s 700 million (and growing) user base? Imagine the size of the team needed to support that! Additionally companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have access to a lot of data from maps to menus that Facebook does not. But Facebook is operating system agnostic – giving it an advantage no other virtual assistant has today. techcontour.com

Facebook believes that with enough data (every move made by a human to help M is recorded now), it can be run with very less human assistance without losing the human touch. The data it is collecting now can help drive a more advanced system based on deep learning.  It would use machine learning to master tasks by analyzing enormous quantities of information across a vast network of machines. Roughly speaking, these networks mimic the web of neurons in the brain.

From recognizing faces in photos to having access to your friends, your likes, their likes, your life events, Facebook has specific targeted data no other company does. Imagine the possibilities – you post your newly ‘engaged’ status and M can text you a congratulations message with a sponsored photo of a wedding dress for you to buy. It will take targeted advertisements to the next level! In the future, it could also be added to WhatsApp since Facebook now owns that messaging platform as well.

It seems super futuristic, but if (a big IF) Facebook can figure out a way to scale and achieve speed to build this platform for the future, it might just win the war on virtual assistants.


Swathi Jay

Tech Blogger, Georgia Tech Engineer, Microsoft Program Manager

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