- Facebook has a virtual assistant called “M” you probably didn’t know existed.
- The company announced today it will be shutting M down in a little over a week.
- This is curious timing, as CES 2018 is about to start and virtual assistants are the hot topic.
If you’ve used Facebook Messenger over the past few months, you may have noticed little suggestions popping up during your conversations. Maybe you used the phrase “what time” in a message, and a notification popped up giving you the option to “Start Plan.” Clicking that would get a schedule going for a private event between you and the participants in the message.
This was the work of Facebook’s virtual assistant, “M.” First announced in 2015 with the codename “Moneypenny,” Facebook claimed complex AI and human interaction were going to fuel M’s advancement. Eventually it would be able compete with Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa.
Alas, it was not to be; Facebook announced today the service will be shutting down for good next Friday, Jan. 19.
Most Facebook users probably weren’t even aware M existed, or at the very least didn’t consider it to be a kind of virtual assistant. Since the product only appeared in your direct messages with other Facebook users and didn’t have any of the now-typical aspects of a virtual assistant like voice commands or IoT integration, most users probably thought M’s notifications were just a new feature of the messenger app.
The tech world was underwhelmed when M made its debut in Aug. 2015. Reviews were pretty lukewarm, mostly because only select users got the chance to test it out. When it was finally released site-wide in April last year, it was much simpler than Facebook originally described. After that, M’s development stalled out. Facebook seems to have decided it was time to throw in the towel.
This is an especially interesting time to announce the death of M, as Google’s and Amazon’s virtual assistants are inescapable at CES 2018, which officially starts tomorrow. Could it be a strange coincidence, or by design? What does this mean for the smart speaker Facebook is reportedly working on? Time will tell.