Facebook confirmed a report today that says it is working on an artificial intelligence-based digital voice assistant in the vein of Amazon and Google Assistant. The news, first reported by CNBC, indicates that Facebook is not giving up on a vision it first put forth years ago, when it began developing an artificial intelligence assistant for its Messenger platform, simply called M.
This time, however, Facebook says it is focusing less on messaging and more on platforms where hands-free interaction, via voice control and potentially gesture control, is paramount. “We are working to develop AI and voice ancillary technologies that can work across our entire family of AR / VR products, including Portal, Oculus and future products,” said a Facebook spokesperson. The edge Today, following the initial report. That means Facebook cannot position the product as a competitor to Alexa or similar platforms, but rather as a unique feature of its growing family of hardware devices.
CNBC reported that the team that builds the assistant is working from Redmond, Washington, under the direction of Ira Snyder, general manager of Facebook Reality Labs and director of augmented and virtual reality of the company. Snyder’s LinkedIn page also lists him as the director of a product called Facebook Assistant, which is likely the internal name of the project. It’s unclear if that will be its final business name when it launches.
The Facebook assistant is being built for VR / AR devices and video chat.
CNBC says the project has been in the works since early 2018, shortly before Facebook announced that it had shut down its M personal assistant service. Facebook also tried to build a robust botnet that would cover AI across Messenger and power the features of automated chat, news alerts, and even mobile games, though Messegner’s bots haven’t really taken off.
This project and the various divisions involved in bringing it to life enhance the goals of Facebook’s new approach to experimental technology. Since it acquired Oculus in 2013, the social network’s forward-looking divisions have taken on various organizational structures, most recently in the form of a new pair of divisions.
The first of those two divisions is the AR / VR hardware group responsible for the development of the Portal’s video chat device, and that division now also includes remnants of Facebook’s dismantled Building 8, a secretive division previously run by the former director. DARPA and Google employee Regina Dugan, who left the company in late 2017. The second division is now known as Facebook Reality Labs, run by video game pioneer Michael Abrash, who became a Facebook employee through Oculus and now he has the title of chief scientist at the virtual reality company. .
It appears that the Facebook AI assistant is being jointly built by both teams, with Snyder seemingly filling positions in both divisions. Whatever the end purpose, it is clear that Facebook is treating its growing family of hardware devices as conduits for a shared vision for the future, one in which AI is distributed across all platforms owned by Facebook and not limited to unique products.