Facebook's Messenger personal assistant 'M' is to skip voice control for now while Facebook continues to perfect the process. The news that the artificial intelligence (AI) assistant will remain a text-based service for the foreseeable future may seem surprising considering the development of rival voice-controlled personal services, but this has been confirmed by Stan Chudnovsky, Head of Product at Facebook Messenger.
The M virtual assistant was launched in 2015 in beta form to only a limited amount of users in Silicon Valley. Since then, Messenger's M service has slowly rolled out to all users, but continues to stick to text despite the popularity of voice-based assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. In New Orleans at the Collision Conference, Chudnovsky was asked by Recode why M had not been designed for voice commands. He responded by pointing out the three necessary steps for this process (recognizing a request, translating it for AI purposes, and then completing the request), and said the success rate was still not at a level that was considered satisfactory. Chudnovsky said that Facebook was working on the last two of these steps but would not proceed into voice control for M until the technology was up to the job, as people might be deterred from using it in future if it was not perfect right from the start. Voice-controlled Messenger has not been entirely ruled out though, as Chudnovsky also responded, "voice eventually" when asked if it might come in the future.
When Facebook's M virtual assistant launched two years ago, it was intended as a way to keep people using Messenger and eventually grow the platform further by extending the capabilities of the service. However, because the AI technology was in its early stages, Facebook confirmed that it was primarily human moderators that would be handling the majority of interaction with users, rather than relying on software, leading to a human-powered vs machine-powered debate. Facebook Messenger now has 1.2 billion monthly active users, and last month Facebook also launched 'Suggestions from M,' using a now fully automated version of the M AI bot. It will be interesting to see how much longer it will take for M to start using voice control, though it looks as if it could be quite some time.