Facebook's M is on the way out.
The social network is shutting down its virtual assistant chatbot, which uses a combination of human contractors and artificial intelligence software to answer queries and perform tasks for people in Facebook's Messenger app.
The M bot, first announced in August 2015 and still in beta, will be shut down on Jan. 19, the company said Monday.
When someone asked M a question, the software's AI produced a response. The response was then reviewed by human contractors to see if the software generated answers that were on the right track. If the reply was sufficient, it was sent back to the user. Facebook has had contractors available for the M bot 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While the virtual assistant service is going away, Facebook is keeping its "M Suggestions" feature, which grew out of some of the insights learned by the M project. The feature pops up in Messenger chats and suggests replies and other actions based on the conversation you're having.
"We launched this project to learn what people needed and expected of an assistant, and we learned a lot," a Facebook spokeswoman said. "We're taking these useful insights to power other AI projects at Facebook."
It's Facebook's modus operandi to use human contractors to help train its algorithms. The company used the same method when it had contractors working on its controversial trending news topics feature. Facebook eventually got rid of the contractors and transitioned to leaning on its algorithms to power the product.
But the shuttering of M does appear a change in plans from Facebook's vision for it. Messenger's chief David Marcus reportedly said in 2015 that Facebook had a "good chance" of scaling the product.
In the last few years, Facebook has made big investments in AI. The company has two divisions devoted to artificial intelligence: AML, or Applied Machine Learning, and FAIR, Facebook AI Research. But the company isn't the only tech giant that's made a big AI push. For example, rival Google has its DeepMind lab, famous its AlphaGo software.
Facebook is also shutting down its M bot just as its competitors are ramping up their own digital helpers. Both Amazon and Google are trying to get their Alexa and Assistant softwares, respectively, into the hands and homes of more users.
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