Zuckerberg Confirms the Importance of Voice to Future Facebook Products

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted that the company may soon offer its own AI voice assistant, a new entrant to compete with Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri. At Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday, Zuckerberg pointed out that many new projects will benefit from voice interactions. In response to a question about Facebook’s potential plans for a voice assistant, Zuckerberg said:

I imagine there are going to be more products that we build where voice is going to be an important interface over the coming years. We’re working on a lot of different things around this.

Facebook currently has two voice assistant controlled products, the Portal and Portal+ smart displays. These include some basic voice assistant capabilities for controlling access to Facebook content and the embedded video chat solution. However, these devices also have Alexa embedded in order to offer access to a wide variety of skills, content, and smart home devices. Zuckerberg’s comments suggest Facebook plans to extend its voice-enabled product portfolio.

Confirming Earlier Rumors

Zuckerberg’s comments simply confirm the news in April that Facebook is working on a voice assistant. Facebook’s director of AR/VR, Ira Snyder, and chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, have both commented on Facebook’s plans for a voice assistant previously.

The new project started in earnest in early 2018, after Facebook shut down M, the digital assistant built into its Messenger platform after three years. But, while M used both AI and human assistants to respond to users, the new voice assistant will rely entirely on AI, in the model of Google, Apple, and Amazon. And, Facebook is clearly still building up the team to create its voice assistant. There are more than 50 openings for engineers and scientists specializing in AI, natural language processing, and related fields in Facebook’s Seattle-area offices where the voice assistant work is centralized. That alone suggests that Facebook sees a voice assistant as a crucial element of its future business model.

The Voice Assistant Provider Controls the Experience and Data

It’s no surprise that Facebook, which has built its empire on controlling user experience and data, would want to have its own voice assistant. Facebook products like the Portal smart display will need to continue using Alexa or another voice service until the company can offer a viable alternative. The absence of its own voice assistant means Facebook will continue to sacrifice some control over the user experience and data during that period.

“You can look at where the product roadmap is likely to go on this and see why this would be a very useful and an important way where people are going to want to interact with more technology that way,” Zuckerberg told shareholders. You can listen to the full meeting comments here. The Q&A portion begins at 46:48.

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