Mark Zuckerberg Built a Mandarin-Speaking AI

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12:10 AM HKT, Sun July 23, 2017 1 mins read

When he’s not driving tractors in Wisconsin or floating presidential-sounding policy initiatives in the media, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg still takes the time to tinker around the old app-building toolbox. His latest creation: Jarvis, a “voice first” (think Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa) app to help out around the house.

Zuckerberg first introduced Jarvis last December with a year-end post and this playfully constructed PR video, which ends with an open call for customer feedback. It appears the fruits of that initial push are now coming to light.

On Thursday, the US Patent and Trademark Office released a patent for a “modular electromechanical device” that, based on an expert’s reading of its technical specs, looks very much like a new take on voice first hardware. The inventors listed on the patent application overlap significantly with the staff at Building 8, Facebook’s covert future-proofing subdivision that is also working on new breakthroughs in VR, AR, and brain-scanning, “skin-hearing” interfaces.

“Creepy,” you might be saying, “but what does this have to do with China?” Well, sandwiched in between Zuck’s affected charm, knowing references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and a potshot at Canadian hard rock outfit Nickelback is a short scene in which Jarvis — named after Tony Stark’s household AI in Iron Man — speaks Mandarin to Zuckerberg’s infant daughter.

Ok, it’s not much. He only says “美女,早上好” (“Good morning, beautiful girl”) and “谢谢” (“Thanks”), but as part of a carefully scripted video that looks specifically positioned to introduce Facebook’s next frontier of penetration into our everyday lives, it seems like Jarvis’ Mandarin capabilities might be something to take note of, potentially the next gambit in Zuckerberg’s “Long March to China.”

To play us out, here’s some CGI commentary on Jarvis from the always-batshit (in the best way) Taiwanese video commentators, TomoNews, who have some sharp words for Jarvis’ “crappy Mandarin.” Keep your eyes peeled for the Chinese flag underwear:

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