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Behind Facebook’s Messenger Missteps

Facebook employees buzzed about Messenger’s personal assistant, known as M, when it launched inside the company and to a test group of thousands of users in California last year. Users could buy movie tickets or even order pinatas for employee birthday parties, although the work was performed mostly by people rather than a computer. The idea was that deep-learning algorithms would eventually learn enough from the requests to automate the work.

Reality eventually set in. Facebook’s artificial intelligence research team initially estimated it would take tens of thousands of queries before M could book a restaurant without humans. That estimate later ballooned to many millions, said a person with knowledge of the planning.

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“The Facebook team is aware of the [problem] around discovery,” said Irfan Mohiuddin, director of product management at Expedia, which has a bot to book hotels on Messenger. “No matter how good an experience you can have, if there’s no way for customer to know you exist, that’s a potential hiccup.”

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