UPDATED 15:59 EST / APRIL 17 2019


Report: Facebook is developing an AI voice assistant

Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa and Google LLC’s Home voice assistants may soon face some new competition.

CNBC reported today that Facebook Inc. has been quietly working on a rival voice assistant since early 2018. The network’s sources said that development is being carried out by Facebook Reality Labs, the division behind the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Ira Snyder, the group’s general manager of research, is said to be leading the initiative.

The tipsters didn’t go into detail about the specific features the voice assistant will offer. However, they did provide a small glimpse into Facebook’s go-to-market planning. Two of the tipsters who spoke with CNBC said that the company has been reaching out to “vendors in the smart speaker supply chain,” which can probably be understood to mean parts manufacturers.

That would suggest that the social networking giant is looking to build its own smart speakers to go along with the voice assistant. Amazon and Google have both done the same with their respective services, which makes it all the more likely Facebook will go down this road. If the social networking giant follows the two companies’ playbook, the reported voice assistant will likely also arrive on other smart speakers sooner or later.

Facebook already boasts a burgeoning presence in the consumer electronics market. The company’s Oculus Rift headsets have a prominent place in the VR ecosystem and, last October, it introduced an Alexa-powered smart display called Portal (pictured). The latter device might end up supporting the voice assistant as well.

Facebook’s past experience in building consumer hardware should prove a valuable asset. But ultimately, it’s the quality of the AI in the voice assistant that will determine if it can successfully take on Alexa and Google Home.

Matching the capabilities of the two services may be a tall order even for a company as tech-savvy as Facebook. However, the social networking giant is better-positioned to tackle the challenge than most. Facebook uses AI in almost every part of its platform and is responsible for creating several of the industry’s most popular machine learning tools. It has even built own custom chips to help train AI models faster.

Photo: Facebook

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