Facebook’s virtual assistant “M” is powered by real people

Following in the footsteps of Google Now, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana, Facebook has launched its own virtual personal assistant, simply named M. M is being baked into the company’s Messenger app, and, unlike its competitors, is powered not just by technology, but by real people.

A team of employees, dubbed M trainers, will work alongside the software to ensure that every request is answered. The idea is to go beyond the likes of Siri and Cortana, and offer a true personal assistant experience, allowing users to do things like have gifts delivered, book restaurants, and make travel arrangements.

Currently, M is entirely text based. The few hundred users in the Bay Area who have been given access to the app can tap a new button in Messenger to send a request directly to M, at which point either software completes it, or a human does. Users won’t directly know whether it was a computer or a person that helped them.