Way back in 2015, Facebook started testing what was supposed to be its answer to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. The service, a virtual assistant named M, was housed within the Facebook Messenger app and was being tested by a few hundred users in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s rolled out to all Facebook Messenger users as of Thursday, April 6, but M isn’t what it used to be.
The Original Concept of M
Originally, you were going to be able to tap a small button at the bottom of the Messenger app to send a note to M. Once you did that, the virtual assistant’s software would decode the natural language, ask follow up questions, and eventually come up with an answer.
It was fairly successful at it, too. Facebook employee testers were even able to get M to call the cable company, enduring the endless hold times and automated messages to help set up home Wi-Fi or cancel an HBO subscription. The problem, I guess, was that sort of service required physical employees on standby to make such calls and sit through the wait times.
The New M Assistant
All of that has changed, and M is no longer readily apparent until the assistant decides to make an appearance on its own. Rather than being a bot users can chat with, M is now relegated just to offering a set of suggestions that should, in theory, help you with your conversation.
One of the things M can do is give you suggested stickers to react to key phrases, along with prompts to transfer money, begin a poll, or get a ride from Uber or Lyft. Here are the things M is able to help you with right now.
- Sending stickers: M shares fun sticker suggestions for your daily life interactions like “Thank you” or “Bye-bye.”
- Paying or requesting money: M recognizes when people are discussing payments and gives them the option of easily sending or requesting money.
- Sharing your location: M can suggest an option to share your location during a conversation.
- Making plans: If people are talking about getting together, M helps coordinating a plan.
- Starting a poll (in group conversations only): Have a hard time making decisions in a group? M lets you set a poll topic and vote in group conversations.
- Getting a Ride: Talking about going somewhere? M suggests “Get A Ride” and shares an option of Lyft or Uber.
How Does M Work?
The virtual assistant uses artificial intelligence machine learning techniques, according to Facebook. The goal is to “support and enhance the Messenger experience and make it more useful, personal and seamless.” The more you use M, Facebook says, the more it can help you. You can ignore or dismiss a suggestion if you don’t want it.
Can I Turn M Off?
If you aren’t comfortable with having Facebook’s software parsing through all of your messages like this, you can turn the feature off. Go to the Messenger app’s settings by tapping your profile picture in the top left corner of the screen. Scroll down and tap on M Settings, where you can turn the suggestions off altogether. You can also disable Ride Suggestions and change your preferred ride-sharing app to any, Uber, or Lyft.