Facebook Builds Video Chat Device, Refutes ‘Scary’ Bot Tale

Facebook is developing a video chat device for the home that features a touchscreen the size of a laptop’s screen and smart camera technology. The device, in prototype form and being tested in homes, is the first to emerge from the company’s Building 8 lab, and, says chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, is aimed at bringing Facebook users closer. Elsewhere, Facebook squelched a widely reported, hyped-up story that it shut down “creepy” chatbots that were communicating with one another.

Bloomberg reports that, in addition Facebook’s prototype video chat device, sources say that the company has hired former Apple employees to build “a standalone smart speaker that would compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home.”

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Building 8 head Regina Dugan, a former Google executive, stated that the lab’s goal is to “create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first.” She noted that, as people cleave to their smartphones, “they don’t interact with the physical world as much,” and the “new hardware platforms can chip away at false choices.”

The video chat device “will feature a wide-angle camera lens, microphones and speakers that are all powered by artificial intelligence to boost performance,” as well as “a large touchscreen measuring between 13 and 15 inches diagonally.”

Sources say that Facebook “has considered running a version of the Android operating system on its device instead of building its own core operating system,” and that it is “testing a feature that would allow the camera to automatically scan for people in its range and lock onto them.” The company is also developing a 360-degree camera for the device, but, “it’s unlikely to be ready in time for the initial launch.” The video chat device is expected to sell for “a few hundred dollars.”

Wired reports on the media coverage of a Facebook experiment in which “simple bots … chattered in garbled sentences.” “Nobody at the social network’s AI lab panicked, and you shouldn’t either,” it says. The most interesting tidbit to take from the story, it suggests, is that “once the bots started speaking English, they did prove capable of negotiating with humans.”

As part of negotiation, the bots “said they were interested in items they didn’t really want before giving them up in a deal that secured what they were trying to collect,” but this is no more threatening than “the mendacious smarts of the pokerbot Libratus, which outbluffed top human players earlier this year,” since “neither is close to the autonomy or common-sense understanding of the world that people use to apply skills and knowledge to new situations.”