Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Facebook
Facebook may be the next tech giant to join the competitive virtual assistant race.
CNBC first reported that Facebook is building its own digital brain, possibly to work with its Portal video chat device or Oculus virtual reality headsets. The work is happening in the company’s campus in Redmond, Wash., just down the road from Microsoft.
Leading the digital assistant effort is Ira Snyder, whose title on LinkedIn is director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant. Snyder has been with Facebook for just under two years working with a variety of teams on AR/VR projects, and he also spent 23 years at Microsoft working on a variety of projects, including robotics, natural language processing and more.
Facebook issued the following statement, confirming it is working on voice assistant tech: “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.”
Facebook’s rapidly growing Redmond campus plays a major role in the company’s research and development initiatives. A scan of its job site shows several jobs related to audio projects, though nothing that specifically points to a virtual assistant initiative.
Portal already has some voice assistant capabilities, with a “Hey Portal” wake phrase. The device also integrates with Alexa.
Facebook would face an uphill battle to gain a foothold in the competitive virtual assistant market. The company has faced multiple privacy scandals in recent years. Combine that with recent revelations that teams building other virtual assistants are listening in on some conversations, and it could be a tough sell for Facebook to get users to let the digital brain into their homes.
Amazon and Google combined control roughly 97 percent of the smart speaker market, according to eMarketer, leaving only scraps for entries from companies like Apple, Samsung and more.