Facebook is planning its own voice assistant as it looks to increase competition with Siri and Alexa. According to a report from CNBC, Facebook has been working on this AI assistant since early 2018. It comes after the company tried and failed to launch a Siri competitor in 2015.
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Facebook’s virtual assistant development team is being led by Ira Snyder, who also serves as the company’s director of augmented and reality. That team is also responsible for Facebook’s various hardware initiatives.
A team based out of Redmond, Washington, has been spearheading the effort to build the new AI assistant, according to two former Facebook employees who left the company in recent months. The effort is being led by Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant.
There are questions about how Facebook would make a virtual assistant available to users, seeing that it doesn’t currently offer a smartphone of any sort. There are a few possibilities that CNBC outlines, including integration into Oculus headsets, as well as its own smart speakers.
CNBC’s report mentions that Facebook “has been contacting vendors in the smart speaker supply chain” as it develops its own assistant. Given that the AR/VR team spearheading the assistant’s development also works on hardware, this seems like a possible solution.
It’s unclear how exactly Facebook envisions people using the assistant, but it could potentially be used on the company’s Portal video chat smart speakers, the Oculus headsets or other future projects.
Facebook currently offers its Portal smart display, but it relies on Amazon’s Alexa platform for voice interactions. Facebook would theoretically be able to rid its reliance on Amazon entirely if it were to successfully develop its own virtual assistant.
Of course, Facebook faces stiff competition in the virtual assistant space. Amazon’s Alexa is a clear leader, while Apple is also ramping up the team around Siri. Facebook tried to enter the AI assistant industry in 2015 with its “M” virtual assistant for Messenger. That project was eventually killed due to a lack of use.