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Facebook is Working on an AI Voice Assistant for Portal and Oculus Products

The tech giant Facebook is working on an artificial intelligence-based digital voice assistant. IT was first reported by CNBC and confirmed by Facebook to The Verge. It indicates Facebook isn’t giving up on a vision it first put out years ago, in 2015, when it began developing an AI assistant for its Messenger platform simply called M.

So, what is an artificial intelligence-based digital voice assistant? It is actually a software service, which is coupled with some specialized hardware device, such as a smart speaker. It may offer some interesting set of the abilities of a human assistant, most notably answering questions and performing tasks using voice and natural language processing (NLP) backed by artificial intelligence (AI). Examples are Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant.

Amazon device with Alexa in it; Image Source:

Alexa is the name you call out when you have a question. Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, is a female voice that talks to you in a conversational manner, ready to help you with many things. It can perform a variety of simple tasks, like playing music. It is possible for you to use Alexa in your smart home to dim the lights, lock the doors, adjust the thermostat, and control other smart home devices, with just a voice command.

Just like this, Siri is an intelligent assistant that offers a faster, easier way to get things done on your Apple devices. But yes, you can not just simply go and buy Alexa or Siri. You need to have a device that has the voice assistant built in. For example for Alexa you need Amazon Echo device or for Siri you need Apple device.

Siri on iPhone; Image Source:

Facebooks Messenger team previously built an assistant for the messaging app messenger called M, which was supposed to act like a personal assistant. It could make purchases, book travel, and schedule appointments from within Messenger, back in 2015.

This is powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by people. We launched this project to learn what people needed and expected of an assistant, and we learned a lot. We’re taking these useful insights to power other AI projects at Facebook. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of M suggestions in Messenger, powered by our learning from this experiment.

David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook

But unfortunately it was shut down on 19th January, 2018. Upon shutting down the human-powered M, Facebook described it as an ‘experiment’.

An AI assistant for the messaging app Messenger called M; Image

The tech company, Facebook, has been working on this new AI based technology since early 2018. The effort is coming out of the company’s augmented reality and virtual reality group, a division that works on hardware.

According to a report of CNBC, the team building the AI assistant is working out of Redmond, Washington under the direction of Ira Snyder, director of augmented and virtual reality and also Facebook Assistant. Still not clear how exactly Facebook plans for people using the assistant, but it could potentially be used on the company’s Portal video chat smart speakers, the Oculus headsets or other future projects.

We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR [augmented reality/virtual reality] products including Portal, Oculus and future products.

A Facebook spokesperson reportedly told The Verge

Facebooks Portal video chat smart speaker is a combination of speakers, cameras and microphones. To start a video call, users can say “Hey Portal, call …” followed by the name of a person whom you want to call in Facebook. These calls also include entertaining augmented-reality features. Another feature is Smart Camera, which uses artificial intelligence and the devices’ cameras to perfectly frame users on video as they move around while on a call.

User is always on the center of the screen. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that the next major computing platform after mobile in about 10 years is virtual reality platform. Based on which Oculus headsets were released which give higher resolution VR display. Adding an additional AI assistant to these will make them unique and useful more than ever.

Facebooks’ Portal video chat smart speaker; Image Source:

As of right now, this assistant is still under development. But, it seems Facebook’s dreams of having its own version of Alexa are alive and well. No matter what, the Facebook assistant will have to face stiff competition as Amazon and Google gave gone far ahead in the field of AI assistants.

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