Facebook's new AI personal assistant

Cade Metz, writing for Wired about Facebook's new AI that's rolling out to Messenger app users:

FACE IT: SIRI sucks. So often, she has no clue what you’re saying. And when she does, there’s a pretty good chance she’ll respond with nothing more than a page filled with Internet links.

Oof. Rough start. My experience with Siri has actually been the complete opposite. The technology has only improved over time, frequently nailing sentences and paragraphs I assumed she would mangle. It's not perfect, and I do definitely see the wall of links more than I'd like when I'm searching for stuff, but you know...

Moving on:

Part of the problem is that Apple’s talking digital assistant is built on old technology. But even if the company upgrades Siri to the latest in artificial intelligence, she’ll fall well short of an assistant made of flesh, blood, and neurons. As far as artificial intelligence has come in the last few years, it’s still a long way from intelligence.

With M, its new virtual assistant, Facebook admits as much.

Built atop Facebook Messenger—the company’s instant messaging app—M made its debut this morning, arriving on the phones of a few hundred unsuspecting souls in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yes, it’s the company’s answer to Siri and similar services like Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. But it tackles a broader range of tasks, at least as Facebook describes it. You can ask M questions along the lines of Can you make me dinner reservations? or even Can you help me plan my next vacation?—and it will comply.

That’s because Facebook designed the tool so that AI technology responds to these questions in tandem with humans. “The AI tries to do everything,” says Alex Lebrun, the founder of Wit.ai, a startup Facebook acquired to help build this smartphone tool. “But the AI is supervised by the people.”

I'm tempted to just quote the entire damn piece in here, but it really deserves to be read (and let's just to a moment to give Wired kudos for maintaining a very user-friendly and visually appealing layout that's actually nice to consume from their site directly). Facebook's foray into the AI realm sounds very intriguing. The fact that they expect to bolster it with thousands of real humans is also surprising. Reminds me of the failed experiment Path Talk tried out with Places. Something tells me Facebook is in a bit better financial shape to support this initiative, not to mention that Path wasn't really experimenting with AI. Whatever.

The only thing about this right now is having it tied into Messenger seems weird. One of the reasons why I use and enjoy Siri is that it's tightly integrated into the OS. I don't have to turn on my phone, unlock it, search for or navigate to an app, wait for that to load, and then execute my request. I hold down a single button and I'm there. Done. Facebook is at a significant disadvantage there. Maybe things will be better on Android. With that being said, if this human-supported evolution of AI helps it improve in a significant manner, then who knows what will be possible? Maybe the benefits will outweigh the limitations, and I'll finally have a reason to download and use Facebook Messenger.

I also can't forget the privacy aspect. Just like my hesitancy with Google, I don't really trust Facebook to know everything about me. I don't necessarily want to give them any more data than I already am. I'm sure there are millions and millions of people who don't care, but that's something the company has always truggled with, even moreso than Google, it seems. Perhaps people are more cognizant of that stuff when it's pictures of their drunken shenanigans (or their babies and what not) compared to when it's just them throwing searches into the wind.

Regardless, interesting. Curious. Facebook continues to expand in very bizarre ways.

Speaking of... Facebook is now currently heavily invested in the following (and then some):

Facebook hasn't been just a social network for quite some time, and it's expanded far beyond anything I think anyone could have possibly imagined. As Zuckerberg and friends continue pursuing their ambitions, how long before we see an Alphabet style shakeup to give them some room to breathe?