Why Facebook thinks its super-smart digital assistant won't cross the 'creepy line'


David Marcus

Rob Price / Business Insider

David Marcus getting interviewed on stage at

Facebook exec David Marcus promises that its new, incredibly ambitious virutal assistant, M, won't be creepy.


Right now M has only rolled out to select people in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they've started using the human-powered service to complete tasks like ordering flowers, booking flights, or sending parrots to someone's office.

Facebook imagines a world where M would remind you of a friend's birthday, suggest a local restaurant, and then book a table, without the user having to expend any effort whatsoever. Marcus wants M to be incredibly proactive, helping the user complete tasks before they even realize they needed them done.

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But to reach that level of proactiveness, the virutal assistant would need to know a lot of information about you. Couldn't that start feeling a little freaky?

Murad Ahmed from the Financial Times asked Marcus that question on stage today at the Dublin Web Summit.


"While this is a very popular theme for news, I think there's zero creepiness when there'a a lot of utilty," Marcus responded. "The minute it gets creepy is when a company gets a lot of information and doesn't give anything back."

If M continues delivering experiences that feel magical and like a superpower, he doesn't think that "creepiness "will be something that users care about.

That's an arguement that Google has made as well, when questioned about its personal assistant, Google Now or Now on Tap. But Facebook's M may be a slightly tougher pill to swallow there, because questions and tasks will be supervised by real humans, to some extent.

Right now, everything M does is supervised by real people. Those people are backed up by an artificial intelligence system, though, that is learning from interactions with beta testers. Some percentage of responses are already coming straight from the AI, but Facebook needs to drastically increase that number to make the system scalable.

"We cannot afford to hire operators for the entire world, to be their virtual assistant, but with the right AI technology, we could deploy that for the entire planet, so that everyone in the world would have an automated assistant that helps them manage their own online world," Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer recently explained at a press briefing. "And that ends up being a kind of superpower deployed to the whole world."


Marcus says he's "cautiously optimistic" about M's progress weaving human interactions with human intelligence so far.

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