Oh, Zuck, no! Facebook rumored to be creating a voice assistant to rival Alexa

Facebook, the way you keep in touch with your mom and keep tabs on that ex or the thing you quit like five years ago, is reportedly working on a voice-activated digital assistant to rival competitors like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and the Google Assistant.

This comes by means of CNBC, which was reportedly informed by “people familiar with the matter.” Facebook, like Apple, Google, and Amazon, is famously secretive, so take the news with a grain of salt.

Reports say that the social media giant has been working on the new initiative since 2018, and that the effort is emerging from the company’s relatively newly acquired augmented reality and virtual reality group — this is the AR and VR division that develops and promotes, among other futuristic stuff, the Oculus VR headset.

According to two former Facebook employees who have since left the company, the initiative is spearheaded by a team based out of Redmond, Washington, led by Ira Snyder, the director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant. They’re also reportedly talking to a bunch of vendors in the smart speaker market, which could present a huge challenge given how far ahead A.I.-ish gizmos like Amazon’s Alexa have gotten, not to mention the giant investment that Google has made in language technology.

Still, Facebook has a whole bunch of platforms where it could employ the new digital buddy, including the fancy new Facebook Portal video chat speaker as well as the Oculus headsets that are rumored to be mainstream soon, plus whatever other idea Zuckerberg’s army has cooked up.

If the report is true, Facebook will be playing catch-up: Amazon has already captured nearly 70 percent of the smart speaker market, with Google carrying the other 30 percent. Siri lives on the iPhone, but Apple’s HomePod hasn’t really taken off.

Facebook has been interested in conversational A.I.-driven products for some time, though not with quite the paroxysm and money that Google has invested. Facebook’s most current public venture has been M, a suggestion-oriented wingding that can hail an Uber, translate conversations, and connect you with apps like Spotify or Food Network if you reference a song or recipe. Facebook has been quietly acquiring companies in this market for a while including the AI assistant startup Ozlo in 2017.

Facebook is scheduled to hold its annual F8 developer conference at the end of April, so we’ll keep you posted if we hear of anything else.

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