Following the success of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, Facebook has announced that they are (finally) creating a voice assistant to rival the above-mentioned services. The company syas they have been working on the new initiative since as early as 2018, but news of the voice assistant only broke out after a report from CNBC a few weeks ago. A Facebook spokesperson later confirmed the news with a statement in a Reuters report, claiming:
“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.”
Initial Support for Portal and Oculus
The voice assistant will be implemented across Facebook’s entire AR/VR product lineup, most notably Portal and Oculus. They’ve also made an effort to indicate that the voice assistant may be used in upcoming new products in the near future, although we still have no idea what those products may be. As far as supported applications outside of Facebook and its products, it’s anyone’s guess. While it’s very possible that we may see Facebook provide their voice technology to others, it’s still too soon for speculation.
Voice Assistant Capabilities
With very little information released, ideas about how Facebook will implement the AI assistant are all but confirmed. Since it will be a part of various key Facebook products and they are comparing it squarely with the top voice assistants of today, we can hazard a guess as to how it’ll work and what it’ll do.
The company’s Portal video chat smart speaker could greatly benefit from an AI assistant, although the market is already rather saturated. Amazon and Google are several steps ahead of Facebook when it comes to AI assistants, holding 67% and 30% of the market share in the U.S. respectively. Have Google and Apple got too significant a head start in the AI assistant race for Facebook to force their way in? Only time will tell.
Not Facebook’s First Rodeo
The new voice assistant won’t be Facebook’s first attempt at an AI assistant for the Oculus. Since Facebook acquired Oculus back in 2013, they’ve been experimenting with different technologies such as their 2015 AI assistant for Facebook’s Messenger called M (remember that?). The idea was to help users with intuitive and smart suggestions, but it never took off and Facebook eventually had to scrap the project.
In March 2017 we saw an ‘Oculus Voice’ service appear on Oculus devices. Although basic, the service did enable users to perform simple voice searches from Oculus Home, as well as navigate through games and applications. Alexa and similar voice assistants were on a superior level at the time, and Oculus’ initial voice assistant seemed limited in its abilities by comparison. The new and upcoming voice assistant promises vast improvements that make it a viable competitor.
Meet The Team Working On The Project
The development team behind the assistant is operating out of Redmond, Washington, under direction from Ira Synder, the general manager at Facebook Reality Labs. Synder, who previously spent over a decade at Microsoft, is also director of a project called Facebook Assistant, which is probably closely related to Oculus’ Assistant.
Since we have no official statement confirming the name of their new AI assistant, Facebook Assistant might be an internal codename for the project, or it may end up being the actual name of the end product.
What The Future Holds
Considering the rate of progress in the voice powered assistant space, our imagination may be the limiting factor when guessing what Facebook will be able to offer with theirs. As Regina Dugan, former VP at Facebook pointed out, it’s possible that Facebook will one day develop a brain-computer interface.
What’s your take on Facebook’s new voice assistant? Do you use an AI assistant at all? If so, would you consider switching to Facebook’s alternative once it hits the market? Let us know, we’d love to hear your opinion.