Facebook Confirms Work On Advanced Voice AI To Battle Alexa And Siri

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Remember life before digital assistants? Even if you are not using one, it is a safe bet that you know someone who is, because they are all over the place. The market is flush with them—Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Google Assistant (Google), and Bixby (Samsung), those being the main ones. There may be another on the horizon as well, from Facebook.

These AI controlled assistants are in all kinds of devices these days, which mostly consists of smartphones and smart speakers. You can use them to fire up playlists, look up the news, get a weather forecast, fetch movie times, and even to order a pizza.

Citing "several people familiar with the matter," CNBC reports that Facebook is working on its own digital assistant to rival the aforementioned ones, and has been working on the project since early 2018. Interestingly, it's Facebook's virtual reality division that is overseeing its development.

Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant, is in charge of the team that is working on the project. As to where Facebook's digital assistant may end up, the team has been in talks with vendors in the supply chain about implementing it into smart speakers.

That is not a bad place to start. A recent report found that the number of smart speaker owners in the US grew by 40 percent in 2018, to 66.4 million people. The total number of smart speakers in use in the US is over 133 million.

Amazon is the market leader in the smart speaker category, with Alexa devices accounting for nearly 72 percent of them, followed by Google holding a better than 18 percent share of the market.

Smart speakers are not the only products where Facebook's digital assistant could end up, though.

"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.

How exactly that would play out remains to be seen, though it definitely opens up some interesting use case scenarios, particularly for gaming. At least we hope it does. Barking commands in a game is more interesting to us than having a digital assistant just for social features within a VR headset.
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