What we can all agree on is that of the heavy hitters operating in the voice assistant market—Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and I guess Cortana and Bixby if we’re being generous—exactly none are made by Facebook. We can probably also agree things ought to stay that way, but then, when in recent memory has humanity pursued right and sensible options?
CNBC reports a team within Facebook based in Redmond, WA, chiefly charged with AR and VR initiatives, has been at work on a robot whatever to tell yer troubles for over a year now. The timing couldn’t be more on the nose. Just as the Menlo Park firm rolled out its Portal home surveillance gizmo less than a month after disclosing a data breach that it initially calculated to have affected 50 million users, the as-yet-unnamed voice assistant follows news that 540 million Facebook records were just sitting around on an exposed server. Then again, almost any announcement the company makes is liable to come on the heels of one or more improbably large gaffes given Facebook’s recent track record.
Facebook’s disused AI assistant for Messenger, M, was laid to rest last year; it’s Portal devices meanwhile are selling at deep discounts. The team behind this assistant, if it should see the light of day, suggests it might be tied to some sort of Oculus project. Despite major players across the computing and gaming sectors pouring money into headsets, VR remains far from ubiquitous.
The tragic irony here is that reviewers (including Gizmodo) thought that Facebook’s Portal video chat device was actually pretty spiffy and well done. But no one could recommend it because Facebook has clearly demonstrated that it can’t be trusted. According to a recent Wired profile, Facebook even discovered in its own internal tests that people who used the Portal device responded to it much more positively if they didn’t know that it was associated with Facebook. Maybe the social media giant will just leave its name off the product this time.
How does Zuckerberg’s big public push towards greater privacy across the Facebook “family of apps” dovetail with a genre of products known for constantly listening to users? When reached for comment a Facebook spokesperson only stated that “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.”