Facebook's virtual assistant M is back -- and ready to underwhelm

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M was going to be the future.

Facebook's (FB, Tech30) first stab at an automated assistant, M could hold a coherent conversation, understand instructions and do your bidding. The early beta service, available to a handful of testers using Messenger, was powered by AI technology with a lot of help from invisible humans.

On Thursday, almost two years after announcing the experimental feature, Facebook released a version of M to the general public. This M is not like the old M. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

Instead of a full-featured assistant, new M eavesdrops on your regular Messenger conversations and then pops in "suggestions." It will work for iOS and Android users in the U.S. first, then come to other countries.

Related: Facebook made its own Siri: Meet M

Is your conversation too dependent on old fashioned words? M has some stickers to suggest. If you're arguing with your pals about who the best Batman was, M can turn it into a poll (spoiler: It's Michael Keaton). Some of the features are useful -- if pretty standard in messaging apps. You can share your location mid-conversation or pay a friend back for last night's margaritas.

It also detects when you're talking about heading out and offers a button to call an Uber or Lyft.

It's a disappointing sequel to the early M experiment, but not surprising. Using real human contractors to call businesses, schedule appointments and answer complex questions is not cheap. Especially when you have 1 billion users. Current AI technology is just not as advanced, yet.

If you find M's constant intrusions annoying, you can turn it off. Facebook will add more features over time, and it says M will learn about you the more you use it.

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