Facebook Messenger’s new AI assistant looks more obnoxious than the Rich Kids of Instagram

Facebook Messenger’s new ‘M’ personal assistant has landed in the UK (and Australia). Here’s what you need to know about the latest update.

Just when you think Facebook couldn’t get any more pervasive, the social media giant springs another update on you. This time, it’s a digital assistant intended to rival the likes of Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana – and potentially drive you round the bend.

The idea behind ‘M’ is that, like other personal assistants, it surfaces relevant suggestions based on what you’re discussing in your conversation with an individual or group.

Some of the suggestions Facebook says ‘M’ can help you with are:

 

  • Sending stickers: M shares fun sticker suggestions for your daily life interactions like “Thank you” or “Bye-bye.”
  • Sharing location: If someone asks “Where are you?” or if you say something like “On my way!”, M can suggest that you share your location during a conversation.
  • Making a plan: If people are talking about getting together, M helps with coordinating a plan.
  • Creating a poll: Have a hard time making decisions in a group? M lets you set a poll topic and vote in group conversations.
  • Birthdays: If the person you are talking with in a one-on-one thread on Messenger has a birthday, M will surface a suggestion to send them a Birthday Wish— a birthday sticker, wish, card, or video with accompanying birthday art effects.
  • Saved: M will proactively suggest that people save content in their Messenger conversations, which they can read, watch or share later. In addition to URLs, M can suggest saving other content such as videos, Facebook posts, events, and pages. And with the Messenger ‘Saved’ extension you can easily share content in 1:1 or group messages.
  • Initiating call/video: If people are chatting one-to-one or in a group and express intent to make a call, M will suggest a voice or video call in Messenger. So, for example, if someone says “Want to call me?”, M will surface this suggestion.

 

Because we all need more birthday reminders on Facebook, right?

What’s interesting when you look at M’s abilities is that most of the ‘actions’ you’ll be encouraged to complete are things you might normally leave Messenger for – I’d use Doodle to make plans, WhatsApp for free calls, and Google Maps to share my location, for example.

Facebook seems to be envisaging a kind of social gulag where you never have to leave the confines of its apps except in extreme circumstances. The really scary thing is that it harvests enough data on most of us to actually achieve this, so its gargantuan reach means that it won’t be long until M boasts an arsenal of smarts and functionality to rival Google’s (frustratingly useful) Assistant.

The objectivity, in case you were wondering, stops here.

Facebook Messenger: Is M the first nail in WhatsApp’s coffin?

While it’s easy to protest in principle, convenience will always outweigh high-minded ideals, which begs the question: could we quietly be witnessing the birth of a WhatsApp killer? There are other apps and services that M could pose a threat to, but I’d say it’s saving the largest knife for one of its own.

Maybe it’s unlikely given Facebook owns WhatsApp, but the fact that it’s upping its efforts to keep you in Messenger – as opposed to sitting idly by while many of us divert to WhatsApp as standard practice for our calls and texting – is certainly noteworthy. I’ve often wondered how long the two can live happily side by side, and now I’m certain that things won’t end happily for the cutesy green telephone icon.

Facebook’s M project actually dates back to 2015, to give you an idea of how much ‘thought’ has gone into its launch, and was first rolled out to US Messenger users back in April 2017.

You can, of course, disable M in the Settings, should you deem it superfluous to your needs – and we also have a complete guide to locking down your Facebook privacy settings, if this is starting to ring some alarm bells.

Alternatively, there’s always the nuclear option…

Related: How to delete Facebook

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