Facebook confirmed a report today that says it is working on a digital voice assistant based on artificial intelligence in the line of Amazon and Google Assistant. The news, reported for the first time by CNBC indicates that Facebook is not giving up the vision that it published for the first time years ago, when it began to develop an AI assistant for its Messenger platform simply called M.  However, at a given moment, Facebook says that it is focusing less on messaging and more on platforms where hands-free interaction, through voice control and, possibly, gesture control, is paramount . "We are working to develop ancillary voice and AI technologies that can work across our entire family of AR / VR products, including Portal, Oculus and future products," said a Facebook spokesperson The Verge today, after the initial report. That means that Facebook can not position the product as a competitor to Alexa or similar platforms, but as an exclusive feature of its growing family of hardware devices.
CNBC reported that the team that is building the assistant is working in Redmond, Washington, under the direction of Ira Snyder, general manager of Facebook Reality Labs and director of augmented virtual reality of the company. Snyder's LinkedIn page also includes him as the director of a product called Facebook Assistant, which is probably the project's internal name. It is not clear if that will be his final business name when it is released.
CNBC says that the project has been underway since early 2018, shortly before Facebook announced it had closed its service Personal Assistant M. Facebook also tried to build a robust bot network that would cover the AI throughout Messenger and enhance the functions of automated chat, news alerts and even mobile games, although Messegner bots have not really taken off.
This project and the various divisions involved to bring it to life highlight the objectives of Facebook's new experimental technology approach. Since acquiring Oculus in 2013, the future divisions of the social network have taken various organizational structures, most recently in the form of a new pair of divisions.
The first of those two divisions is the AR / VR hardware group responsible for developing the Portal's video chat device, and that division now also includes remnants of the dissolved Facebook Building 8, a secret division previously directed by the former director of DARPA and Google employee, Regina Dugan, who left the company in late 2017. The second division is now known as Facebook's Reality Labs, led by video game pioneer Michael Abrash, who became employee of Facebook through Oculus and now holds the title of principal scientist in the virtual reality company.
It seems that Facebook's AI assistant is being built jointly by both teams, with Snyder apparently occupying positions in both divisions. Whatever the final purpose, it is clear that Facebook is treating its growing family of hardware devices as conduits for a shared vision for the future, one in which the AI is distributed on all the platforms that belong to Facebook and does not limited to unique products.