Last month, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) announced it was partnering with Intel to make new, powerful artificial intelligence (AI) chips. This week, it asserted that those chips would be more powerful than the ones behind Apple's and Amazon's popular digital assistants. But if you ask MarketFoolery host Mac Greer and senior analysts Ron Gross and Jason Moser, this AI effort is less about Facebook getting a leg up on its big tech rivals, and more about getting its own house in order.
In this segment from MarketFoolery, they talk about how AI could help Facebook solve some of its most pressing problems, and where its efforts fit into the broader tech universe.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 19, 2019.
Mac Greer: OK, guys, for our final story, we're going to talk some AI. We're going to talk some Facebook. Is Facebook coming after Siri and Alexa? Well, maybe, Jason. Facebook announced a partnership with Intel last month. And now, according to the Financial Times, Facebook is hoping its AI chips will power a virtual assistant that's smarter than Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. Jason, what do you think when you hear Facebook and AI and coming after Alexa and Siri?
Jason Moser: I kind of want to run for the hills.
Ron Gross: [laughs] It's a little scary, maybe?
Moser: I think that's the sexy headline, talking about that AI that's going to be smarter than anything on the face of the Earth. And I don't blame them for trying to put that across. I think this, in the near term at least, is a bet on Facebook's part in trying to find a way to moderate the content on their platforms in a better way. Right now, what we're finding is that moderation is not very scalable. A lot of things keep slipping through the cracks. So, they're working with Intel, for example, to develop this AI chip that would ultimately help them do that, help them moderate the content on their platforms, which then creates a more engaging platform, which then brings more advertising customers in, and that's Facebook's bread and butter, advertising revenue. From that perspective, it makes total sense. That's what they need to be focused on right now. It could be argued that they're in a bit of a bind.
If you look out to India, I think India is a good example here with WhatsApp. I was just recently reading about how the government in India is really cracking down on the content that is making its way onto these platforms. If they have their way there, that's one of WhatsApp's biggest markets, it would really stifle communication on that platform, which would really stifle any potential monetization opportunities Facebook has with WhatsApp. And I think we're all still questioning whether that was really a fair price that they paid back when they acquired WhatsApp, something like $20 billion. They haven't really produced any kind of meaningful monetization from it yet.
Really, this is all about Facebook trying to figure out how to make its platform more engaging and to be able to filter that bad content out. Now, down the road, sure, they can come up with an assistant that's smarter than Siri or Alexa. Do I think they will? No, I don't. I think they say a lot of things and they fail at a lot of things, too. There's this Portal thing, which I don't know is really gaining any traction whatsoever. There was an assistant recently in Messenger, I think it was coined M? They shut that down. You have to explain to me why this assistant matters. Tell me what I'm going to be doing with it. Right now, I think we're seeing a lot of the novelty wear off with a lot of these assistants, as it stands.
Gross: I don't have much to add there, except for those who are dying for some insight into the Gross household over the weekend.
Greer: I am!
Gross: It should be known that just Sunday, I believe it was, I asked Alexa what she thought of Siri because I was bored. And she answered me. She said something to the effect of, "I am fond of all AIs."
Greer: That's nice!
Moser: That's very diplomatic!
Gross: It was very diplomatic! So, if you want to have some fun on the weekends, pop over to my home.
Greer: My only experience -- we don't have Alexa or any of these contraptions in our household -- was at a Cub Scout meeting and I was trying to get the kids to focus -- this was a couple of years ago -- and there was an Alexa in the kitchen and they were getting it to make fart noises. Something like that.
Gross: [laughs] That is not funny!
Greer: And I can't compete with that! They were like 9- and 10-year-old boys. And you know what? This is almost a reason to buy Alexa.
Moser: I remember when we introduced that into our household and I told the kids to try it. And so we got it when their mom was in the other room and used the remote and asked Alexa for a fart and all of the sudden in the other room you hear this and you know...my wife looks up and says "What in the world was that?!" The kids had a lot of fun with that.
Greer: So I wonder if Facebook can compete with that. What do you think?
Moser: I mean hey, it sounds like there's a lot of hot air going on their platform.
Greer: [laughs] Thank you! Thank you! It's a free show, people!
Moser: One more thing. Put this in the context with Amazon, because Amazon is working on the same type of thing, like Amazon building their own chips, just like Facebook partnering with Intel. But it's a matter of what they're doing with those chips. Amazon is building that technology to basically let their cloud customers use. If you're a cloud customer and you're using Amazon technology and it's more intuitive and it's helping your business, that's probably going to keep you in that network for a little bit longer. And that's a good thing, ultimately, for Amazon. But it falls in line with that Jeff Bezos philosophy we've come to know and love in that he wants to make money from you and those enterprises out there using Amazon devices and technology, not from buying the technology.
Greer: The blades, not the razor.