According to a report by CNBC, Facebook is allegedly working behind the scenes on a voice assistant. The social network giant hasn't shied away from trying new things, no matter how divergent from its core business, but this latest dabble seems even more interesting, considering people's growing wariness of the company's practices.
Based on information gleaned from "people familiar with the matter," CNBC says that Facebook's efforts began in early 2018 and are lead by Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant. Facebook has gone as far as reaching out to smart speaker suppliers, so it sounds like the product's development is further ahead than expected.
When it launched its own smart display, the Facebook Portal, the company opted for Amazon Alexa as the built-in voice assistant. It's not clear whether this new homegrown assistant would come to the Portal or not, launch with a new standalone smart speaker, come to the Oculus line-up, or even be integrated in Facebook's website and Messenger. The latter wouldn't be too difficult to picture given hints of the Aloha speech recognition system and the now-defunct M virtual assistant.
The world already has enough assistants in Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby, Cortana, AliGenie (Alibaba), and XiaoAI (Xiaomi), so it's hard to see Facebook encroaching on that market in any significant manner. However, the biggest questions to be asked aren't where and when would this assistant launch and how (un)popular it'd be. Instead, I'm intrigued to know if it'd be an all-encompassing assistant à la Google and Amazon or a Facebook-centric one, and what the company plans to do with all the data it'll collect and how it'll protect it. For the second, I'll snort and laugh, but the first question leaves me puzzled. There's a certain percentage of people for whom Facebook is the internet — and this isn't a hyperbole. It's their home page, social network, messaging service, photo app, and news source. For those, a Facebook-only voice assistant would be enough. But for everyone else, it'll fall short on many fronts.