The social network has confirmed that it's working on an artificial intelligence-based voice assistant, which by the looks of it would be based on the vision Facebook first put out years ago when it began developing an AI assistant for its Messenger platform, called "M."
Facebook Voice Assistant
This time, however, Facebook says it's focusing less on messaging and more on platforms which feature hands-free interaction. The effort will come out of the company's division that works on long-term tech projects and hardware, including its Oculus headsets, as CNBC reports.
It's not just voice assistant, though — Facebook could also be working on gesture control. In any case, hands-free interaction is the top priority for Facebook at the moment.
"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. If that's true, it's possible Facebook won't position the voice assistant as a Google Assistant or Alexa killer, but as more of an exclusive feature built into its growing hardware portfolio.
According to CNBC's report, general manager of Facebook Reality Labs Ira Snyder is heading the team tasked to develop the AI assistant, and that they're working out of Redmond, Washington. Snyder is also director of product called Facebook Assistant, which The Verge notes is likely the name of the project. Whether or not this will be its name when launched remains uncertain.
Facebook M Assistant
Facebook has apparently been working on this assistant since 2018, shortly before Facebook announced that it had pulled its M personal assistant service. That project was an ambitious but promising early look at Facebook's approach to AI-assisted service, whereby a network of bots helped users perform a handful of tasks. But it depended heavily on the help of humans and failed to get significant traction.
This past November, Facebook began selling its Portal video chat device, which allows users to make video calls using Messenger. They can say, "Hey Portal" to make it perform a number of commands, but the device also comes equipped with Alexa, a sign that Facebook isn't quite ready to let go of outsider help when it comes to voice assistants. Depending on how well development of Facebook Assistant turns out, Facebook could very well depend on its own in the future.