Facebook has been working on its own AI-based voice assistant since early 2018, according to CNBC’s sources. It’s being developed at the company’s Redmond, WA location, apparently, and is intended to be a rival to Alexa, Siri, Cortana etc. Ira Snyder, a director of augmented and virtual reality for Facebook, is leading on it. This isn’t their first foray into AI assistance, though — Facebook Messenger already has had some AI assistant type capabilities, although it wasn’t voice focused, and was shut down in January 2018.
This new project is intended to enter the hands-free, voice-activated market. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed it to The Verge, saying: “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.” The fact that it’s happening at the company’s VR hub in the Pacific Northwest (home of Oculus) suggests that it’s more hardware-focused for the moment. It’s as yet unclear when the Facebook Assistant will launch, and what will happen to Portal devices when it does (that’s Facebook’s smart speaker-tablet hybrid) because they currently ship with Alexa pre-installed.