Virtual assistants are all the rage, from Apple’s Siri and Google Now to Microsoft’s Cortana. Now Facebook is getting into the AI-helper game with M, a new feature in its Facebook Messenger app. For now it’s only in tests among “a few hundred” US users of the app, but the social network has grand ambitions. “It can perform tasks that none of the others can,” its VP of messaging products David Marcus told Wired.

It works by messaging: people tap a button to ask M a question or give it a task, from restaurant recommendations to shopping suggestions. And quirkier fare. “An engineer went to Paris for a couple days, and his friend asked M to redecorate his desk in a French style. 24 hours later, the desk was decorated with a proper napkin, baguette bread, and a beret.” So it has national stereotypes down already. But the most interesting thing about M is that there is a team of humans – “M Trainers” – working behind the scenes to add human touches to the service. “If you ask M to plan a birthday dinner for your friend, the software might book the Uber and the restaurant, but a person might surprise your friend at the end of the night by sending over birthday cupcakes from her favourite bakery,” as Wired explains it.

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