Facebook Messenger's M assistant starts suggesting you say happy birthday

Key Points
  • Facebook is introducing three more types of suggestions in the M assistant in Messenger.
  • M's new capabilities are meant to improve discovery of features in Messenger and enhance users' conversations.
Mark Zuckerberg
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook on Tuesday announced new ways it's enhancing M, the virtual assistant inside the company's Messenger messaging app.

Now M will give you a few ways to wish happy birthday to your friends. It will also appear at the bottom of the chat window to help you do certain things within Messenger based on what's said in the conversation: saving content, such as news articles or Facebook posts, to read later; and starting a voice call or video call.

M, which was first unveiled in 2015, began making suggestions in Messenger in April. For example, M can share your location in response to words like "where are you?" or send money on your behalf when you're talking about making a payment.

In the months since then, M has become smarter, Facebook product manager Kemal El Moujahid said in an interview with CNBC.

"It learns about you, it learns from your interactions, and it learns from things that you tap on," he said. And so the new kinds of suggestions will become more refined as well.

Initially Messenger will let you wish someone a happy birthday with a sticker, a customized greeting card with a photo or simply the words "happy birthday" as regular text. Over time, based on your what you choose and with whom, the suggestions will change.

Assistants have crept into other messaging apps as well. Alphabet's Allo app contains the Google Assistant, and "Siri intelligence" can help you share addresses in Apple's Messages app for iOS.

At Facebook, the suggestions help users both discover features they might not otherwise use and enhance their conversations, El Moujahid said.

When Facebook first introduced M in 2015, it was a generalized chat bot that could answer a wide variety of questions, but some answers were actually powered by humans. But this year Facebook reimagined M as an entity that could jump into chats and provide truly automated help without input from humans.

Facebook Messenger had more than 1.2 billion monthly active users as of April.