Facebook might be in between a tricky situation for handling users’ data poorly but that is not stopping the social media giant from pondering over new ways to learn more about its users and their preferences. Furthering its plans to create a holistic virtual and/or augmented reality ecosystem, Facebook is now working on a voice-based virtual assistant to facilitate easier voice search and an improved experience for its users.
The confirmation comes from Google after CNBC got in touch with two of Facebook’s ex-employees, who revealed that the company is developing an AI-powered virtual aide for its Oculus VR headsets and the Portal smart display. The two informed CNBC that Facebook is in touch with several vendors in the smart speaker supply ecosystem and the effort is being headed by Ira Snyder, the head of the company’s AR/VR division.
Facebook already has some experience of working on a virtual assistant. “M”, Facebook’s text-based smart assistant was born in 2015 to improve conversations in Messengers and help you with recommendations for things like what to eat or what place to visit. It was killed last year in January because it failed to interest many people, especially because it didn’t feel very intuitive to most of them.
Now that voice searches are really taking off and the market could grow at nearly 40% annually, Facebook’s experience with M could really pay off in the new endeavor. In an official response, Facebook told Reuters that the AI assistant “may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus and future products.”
The legit competitors for Facebook’s virtual assistant will be Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant which currently capture 97% of the smart speaker market combined. The assistant shall play a major role in not only helping Facebook understand what products users like to purchase (for relevant ads) but also allow for a touch-free experience with it Portal smart display – aside from guiltlessly listening to our conversations.
While the details about this project are limited, The Verge points out that Snyder’s LinkedIn profile says that he’s also the director of “Facebook Assistant”, which is what the virtual aide may be called for now, and even in future. Facebook F8 developers’ conference commences on 30th of April and that is when we may get to learn more about the new project.
Meanwhile, another endeavor which we could learn of is Facebook’s cryptocurrency project which is expected to allow users to send money via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The company recently started looking for venture capitalists to help it work towards a stable value for its coin offering.