Facebook M adds to mobile assistant sprawl with Cortana, Siri, Google Now

Every tech platform wants to be helpful to you and live in your pocket. The personal assistant sounds great until there are too many of them.

Facebook's move to create an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered personal assistant dubbed M could be a technology step forward. But M is also going to contribute to a personal assistant bandwagon that's going to get crowded.


Welcome to the world of personal assistant sprawl. Microsoft, Google and Apple all want their mobile platforms to anticipate your needs, schedule appointments, give you directions and even buy gifts for your sibling. Now Facebook is in the fray.

In a blog post, Facebook said M, which is built into Messenger, noted:

Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more.

The aim for Facebook is the same as the other entrants to the market: Get things done so you can focus on what's important. Related: Facebook dabbling with digital personal assistant in Messenger app | Facebook engineers: Going mobile-first is not as easy as it looks

But if you play this personal assistant land grab out it's likely you'll have at least two helpful AI apps on your phone. Apple's iPhone has Siri, which also aims to call up appointments, as well as M when it scales. Android could have Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana and M assuming you actually wanted to collect personal assistants. There's an IBM Watson app to take for a spin too, but it's aimed at analytics.

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At some point, these personal assistants are going to clash. A Cortana-Siri argument could be fun. For the customer, these personal assistants are going to be like a room of overly-helpful people asking you if you need something. These folks have their hearts in the right place, but eventually become annoying.

The catch here is that AI technology hasn't advanced far enough to give any tech vendor a true leap in personal assistant features. Facebook promises to be different. So does Google. And Microsoft. And Apple. All of these titans have a different spin.

For now, we're entering an age of assistant sprawl.