Facebook might introduce its own voice assistant à la Siri and Alexa in the future. According to CNBC, the social network's augmented and virtual reality team led by Ira Snyder has been developing a voice AI since 2018. The team has even started contacting smart speaker vendors, presumably to forge partnerships that would lead to devices powered by the new assistant. Based on what a spokesperson told Reuters, though, Facebook is mainly developing the assistant for its Oculus headsets, its Portal smart display and future AR/VR devices. "We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus and future products."
Facebook this week slashed the price of its Portal video chat screen and now the company has revealed it is working on a voice assistant that could be used in the devices. Today the tablet-like devices ship with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant built-in, but the devices could soon have a Facebook-made assistant. "We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus and future products," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to CNET on Wednesday. According to CNBC, a Facebook team is based in Redmond and headed up Ira Snyder, a former Microsoft employee whose current Facebook title is "director of VR/AR and Facebook Assistant". The company reportedly kicked off the voice assistant project in early 2018, around the time it pulled its Messenger bot M. Facebook this week discounted its two Portal models by $100 hoping to capture extra sales on Mother's Day.
Facebook has confirmed a report from earlier today saying it's working on an artificial intelligence-based digital voice assistant in the vein of Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant. The news, first reported by CNBC, indicates Facebook isn't giving up on a vision it first put out years ago, when it began developing an AI assistant for its Messenger platform simply called M. This time around, however, Facebook says it is focusing less on messaging and more on platforms in which hands-free interaction, via voice control and potentially gesture control, is paramount. "We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus and future products," a Facebook spokesperson told The Verge today, following the initial report. That means Facebook may not position the product as a competitor to Alexa or similar platforms, but as more of a feature exclusive to its growing family of hardware devices. CNBC reported that the team building the assistant is working out of Redmond, Washington under the direction of Ira Snyder, a general manager at Facebook Reality Labs and a director of augmented and virtual reality at the company.
The Portal camera detects how many people are in the room and automatically pans out and zooms in based on the crowd. These features run locally on each Portal device, not on Facebook servers, the company said. Both devices come loaded with Amazon.com Inc.'s Alexa voice-assistant software--also found in Amazon's competing line of Echo speakers--allowing users to complete tasks like checking the weather and ordering groceries. The devices' debut comes as Facebook is under fire for its handling of user data.
Facebook has a new plan to make itself an even more integral part of your life. The company just revealed its pair of smart speakers: the $199 Portal and $349 Portal, Facebook's boldest move yet to move off your phone and into your home. The launch of Portal, Facebook's first non-VR consumer hardware project, will almost certainly be clouded by other issues facing the company. Trust in the social network is at a low, thanks to a year of scandals that has included the Cambridge Analytica fiasco and subsequent #DeleteFacebook movement. Americans report they are less likely to trust the social network with their personal data.