Facebook launched a new virtual assistant called M on Wednesday. If it does everything it promises to do, it will be time for a lot of competitors to worry -- one in particular.

M, named for James Bond's devoted secretary Moneypenny, is a hybrid personal assistant, points out Wired. The Facebook Messenger-supported service relies on artificial intelligence trained and guided by humans to respond to user's queries. If AI can’t complete a task, the human will respond. Part of the idea is for the humans to improve the AI component of M over time.

"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," Facebook VP of messaging products David Marcus said in a Facebook post.

The aim of M, then, is to bring together what users might get from human TaskRabbit or Mechanical Turk workers with the technology of platforms like Siri and Google Now. And Facebook thinks M will do these things better. Marcus told Wired he believed M would surprise user with its capabilities relative to competitors. "It can perform tasks that none of the others can," he said.

Perhaps the company that should be watching the new assistant tool most closely is Google. The release of M marks yet another step onto the search giant's territory for Facebook, after the social network first launched its search tool in 2013 and unveiled new product ads earlier this year. 

Google Now, the virtual assistant tool Google launched in 2012, has faced internal hurdles. Re/code reported that Google SVP and incoming CEO Sundar Pichai hasn’t prioritized the development of the tool as much as CEO Larry Page, who has championed the product. Most members of the original Google Now team have departed, according to Re/code.

Published on: Aug 26, 2015