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Facebook Developing Voice Assistant

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Social media giant Facebook is developing an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant in the vein of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, according to reports.

The company has apparently been working on the assistant since the beginning of 2018, and it’s being developed by Facebook’s augmented and virtual reality division, which works on the company’s hardware, like the VR Oculus peripherals.

The assistant is being created by a team out of Redmond, Washington, and spearheaded by Facebook’s director of AR/VR, Ira Snyder. It’s also being reported that Facebook has been contacting smart speaker vendors.

The speaker could possibly be used with Facebook’s Portal video chat smart speakers, or the oculus headset, although the exact use is unknown.

Facebook has dabbled in the world of AI assistants before. In 2015, the company released an AI assistant for its Messenger app, called M. It was meant to help with smart suggestions, but it required too much human input and was shelved.

Competition in the voice assistant market is intense. In the U.S., Amazon has 67 percent of the market and Google has 30 percent, according to eMarketer.

Facebook started selling its Portal video chat device in November, a piece of hardware that allows users to make calls through Facebook Messenger. People can say “Hey Portal” to start simple commands, but to handle more complex tasks, the device uses Amazon’s Alexa.  

In other Facebook news, leaked documents show how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the company’s user data to bolster his site’s power, as well as fight off competitors.

NBC News obtained about 4,000 pages of leaked company documents mostly spanning 2011 to 2015 and including emails, webchats, presentations, spreadsheets and meeting summaries.

The documents show how Facebook found ways to use the social media giant’s user data as leverage over its partners, including rewarding some companies with access to the data while denying the same privilege to rival companies and apps.

For example, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data after the eCommerce giant advertised on the social network. In contrast, Facebook considered stopping access to user data for a growing messaging app that had become a competitor.

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