One example of human workers training Artificial Intelligence (AI) to answer people's queries, is the text-based virtual assistant Facebook M. The social media giant decided to end that project.
Facebook M had a great start. It was born in 2015 as an innovative feature when Amazon just launched the Echo and Google Assistant wasn't available yet. Facebook used Messenger and text-based interactions for M to live as a personal assistant.
But it didn't take long until M started to experience difficulties.
This was because M's secret power was never AI. M relied on humans that worked behind the scene. While AI can answer some simple queries, it was humans that came to answer more complicated questions/requests
Two and a half years after launching M, Facebook ended the human-assisted part of the service.
M which was available through a bot on Facebook Messenger, was only offered to 10,000 people in the San Francisco area. So here, it never really took off.
Announcing the death of M on January 19th, Facebook said, the contractors who have been working on the project are offered other jobs at the company.
First introduced in August 2015, Facebook M offered automated suggestions, making plans, and sending stickers through Messenger. When it launched, Facebook described M as a “beta”, and suggested the human-powered assistant would come to more users over time.
But Facebook was wrong. The moment never happened.
M's main problem was Facebook in giving no boundaries on what M could be asked for. Take Amazon's Alexa for example, it has been adapted to handle a much narrower range of questions, many that are tied to Amazon's core strength in e-commerce. This makes Alexa a much better assistant.
Another problem was the challenges to complete certain tasks where a fully automated AI would have to do things far beyond the capabilities of existing machine learning technology.
So here, what seemed to be a good project, M turned out to be not quite as much as people would have imagined when it was first launched.
What's more, Facebook wasn't allowing users to turn M entirely off. Users can only mute M or some of its suggestions.
Upon shutting the human-powered M down, Facebook described it as an “experiment.”
“We launched this project to learn what people needed and expected of an assistant, and we learned a lot,” the company said in a statement. “We’re taking these useful insights to power other AI projects at Facebook. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of M suggestions in Messenger, powered by our learnings from this experiment.”
Bot-based commerce has experienced a slow growth because most people were still preferring native apps and the web to send text messages.
Facebook M wanted to be the assistant that everyone needs. For those that had access to M, it was indeed a helpful companion. But for Facebook, it was a waste of money.