Tech

Robert Downey Jr wants to be the voice of Facebook AI

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David Cornish
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[Your voice] "Robert, what's the weather going to be like in Cambridge today?"

[Disembodied voice of Robert Downey Jr] "Hey you. It's going to be largely sunny in Cambridge today, with highs of 18 degrees. Grab a jacket. And a Marvel film. My condo needs a refit."

Weird, right? But the above scenario could play out if an unlikely partnership between Robert Downey Jr and Mark Zuckerberg progresses from a Facebook comment dream into tech reality. 

This story started out back in January 2016. Brexit was still a ridiculous fantasy, Donald Trump a presidential joke and Leicester City a small football club in the midlands that were bound to slip up some point soon.

Mark Zuckerberg took to his own social network to announce his annual New Year's Resolution - a trait that's previously seen him set targets of learning learn Mandarin, reading two books every month and meeting a new person every day. CEO millionaire stuff. For 2016, he wanted to create a simple AI to run his home and help with his work; "kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man."

"I'm going to start by exploring what technology is already out there," he wrote on Facebook.

"Then I'll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home - music, lights, temperature and so on. I'll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. I'll teach it to let me know if anything is going on in Max's room that I need to check on when I'm not with her. On the work side, it'll help me visualize data in VR to help me build better services and lead my organizations more effectively."

Fast forward to 13 October, and his Zuckerness has returned to Facebook to hint that his AI is ready, it just needs a voice. 

There proceeded to be the standard thousand (over 47,000) internet replies: obscure suggestions ("My mom!"), bland suggestions ("Morgan Freeman!"), attempts at humour ("I'll do it for £10 mate."). Then a genuine movie star got involved. A movie star with an explicit link to Zuckerberg's own "Jarvis" suggestion. 

The actual Robert Downey Jr (or one one of his marketing team, if you're that kind of cynic) claimed he would "do in a heartbeat" [sic]. "This just got real," replied Zuckerberg. 

Imagine the sass of Downey Jr replying to all of your vocal search requests. Asking your Facebook Home AI to turn down the heating or change the lighting in your living room, only to be faced with the retort of one of the highest paid actors on the planet. 

It's not clear on when Zuckerberg will show off his Home AI project to the wider world, nor exactly how he hopes it might integrate with the wider purpose of Facebook. During a Facebook 'townhall Q&A' in Rome in August 2016, Zuckerberg stated that the AI could control the lights, gates and temperature of his home. It could distinguish between his own voice and that of his wife, only obeying his commands (the tyke).

"So it's getting there," he said. "And it's starting to be able to do some pretty fun things, and I'm looking forward to being able to show it to the world... It's awesome because I get to interact with all these Facebook engineers who are doing all this awesome AI work in speech recognition, in face recognition... I programmed it so now, when I walk up to my gate, I don't have to put in a code or something like that to get in, or put in a key. It just sees my face and it lets me in. So that is pretty fun. There's some state of the art AI in there."

Zuckerberg was supposed to show off the AI in a demo in September, but no such demonstration ever surfaced. Given the recent turn of events, we'd hazard a guess that the AI isn't currently able to do anything that the Amazon Echo or Google AI can't already do. If Zuckerberg is able to bring on a name like Downey Jr to serve as the voice of his creation - talking to a robotic version of the star as he changes thermostat settings or searches through his friend's Facebook posts - it could generate far more interest from the average Avenger fan. 

But what if you don't care for the tones of Zuckerberg? What if you've got another idea for your preferred artificial intelligence assistant? Tell us who you'd rather have voicing your future, or vote for one of our suggestions below. 

 

(Image: Rex)

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David Cornish

Shortlist.com’s esteemed Tech Editor. David has a keen interest in video games, Star Wars and stuff that runs on batteries.

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