Facebook is working on a voice assistant to compete with Alexa and Siri, according to a new report from CNBC. Citing sources familiar with the project, the outlet says a special devision within the social media giant has been working on the initiative for more than a year.
The effort is coming out of the company’s augmented reality and virtual reality group, a division that works on hardware, including the company’s virtual reality Oculus headsets.
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 lead by Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant. That team has been contacting vendors in the smart speaker supply chain, according to two people familiar.
Facebook obviously has the resources and the data (such as profiles on some 1.5 billion active daily users) to develop a digital voice assistant, but it’s not clear yet where the company could deploy it. Its Portal video-chatting device? Oculus headsets? Some unknown future product?
Perhaps the better question is: do people still trust Facebook enough to use their digital assistant? The company has repeatedly come under fire in recent years over its handling of user data. Asking people to place an FB-connected hot mic in their homes may be a tall order.
Update: Facebook provided a statement to Reuters confirming the project:
“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 told Reuters in an e-mailed response on Wednesday.