CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8 2017
As the young billionaire strolled onto the dais in his signature gray tee shirt and blue jeans, he carried with himself an aura of his blurred past, of memories new and old. Of how a sophomore studying psychology at the Harvard University launched a plethora of networks to help bring his institution closer together as a community. Of how he finally decided on one that would soon morph into an elite community of ivy-leaguers across the nation. Of how that community of elitists eventually developed into a universal network where anyone with a registered email address could join. I am, of course, talking about Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire boy-genius who just so happens to be the brilliant mind behind Facebook, one of the biggest social networking sites of our age.
When it was first launched in February 2004, thefacebook.com, as it was called back then, was nothing more than an academic project undertaken by a group of roommates at the Harvard University, designed to help stay connected with fellow students and professors within the institution and keep everyone in the loop. In the years since then, and even the years before, a lot of startups came and went that did this very job just as well as Facebook, perhaps even better. The only reason, however, that this little startup of theirs didn’t turn into dust and oblivion is because of its visionary founder, who struggled to keep the company relevant with changing times no matter what the cost.
“As reluctant as it may have been at admitting it, Facebook hasn’t just entered the landscape of newsmaking, it has reshaped it. By allowing each and every individual a platform to share minute-to-minute details of their daily lives, Facebook has opened us up to a new form of journalism altogether.” - Ruben Vardanyan, CEO of Joomag
Thirteen years later, Facebook is much more than just a chat group for friends. It’s a digitized community, a social platform and, as much as Mark hates to admit it, a news media. The company has done much to stay relevant as the times changed, from the introduction of free applications and paid advertising to the acquisition of other social platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Now, as the company looks forward to the next decade in innovative technology, its CEO has got some visions of his own on how the company is to stay pertinent for the upcoming generation.
At the most recent developers’ keynote held on April 18 and 19, Mark Zuckerberg presented us with the ten-year-roadmap that detailed Facebook’s upcoming plans over the next decade. The roadmap, as it quickly became obvious, rested on three separate foundations. The first was augmented reality, a concept visited upon time and again the last few months, especially so after the sensation that was Pokemon Go. The second was virtual reality, spearheaded on its entirety by Oculus VR. And the third, was artificial intelligence. To our great fascination, Zuckerberg made us privy with some of the most flashy applications that these technologies would be put up to in the upcoming years, starting with, and bear with me on this, your smartphone camera.
“The possibilities Facebook teased Tuesday have limits defined only by one’s imagination: A bowl of cereal surrounded by tiny, leaping, animated sharks. Artwork splayed on walls that, in base reality are blank. Leaving a virtual note for a friend next to a menu at a local restaurant so that you can recommend the corn fritters. On the giant display that backstopped Zuckerberg’s presentation, these interactions all seemed vibrant, and innovative, and downright cool, a special-effects version of everyday life.” - Brian Barrett, Wired
In Facebook’s version of the future, people don’t just contribute to the world around them via traditional economics, they do so via information; data, if you will, and arts. One of the biggest problems, therefore, would be to create a universal database where people could store and access information with convenience, more so than is currently affordable. Imagine a platform so versatile, that it could allow you to access information about objects around you in real time, by superimposing them directly onto your environment, combining the huge database of information that is the internet with the real world around you. That is where augmented reality comes in.
The first step, according to Zuckerberg, was to roll out cameras into all their applications. The next step is to utilize those cameras as platforms for augmented reality, using a variety of applications made by thousands of independent developers to create the most magical ways to augment the environment around us. Imagine staring through your smartphone camera onto a local restaurant and having a pop-up from a friend open up to your screen, revealing the best dishes served at the eatery. Imagine looking at a bottle of wine on your table and receiving a pop-up note revealing its vintage and product description. Imagine staring at a blank wall through a pair of goggles or your smartphone camera, only to reveal a beautiful work of street graffiti on that very wall. All this, according to Facebook’s founding CEO, will be possible within the next few months, as Facebook begins to roll out new applications for augmented reality and works on a prototype pair of goggles to make AR come to life.
“In the not-too-distant future, Facebook thinks we'll want to strap on special goggles so that we can hang out with our friends in a virtual world in which we appear as disembodied, cartoon versions of ourselves.” - Alex Heath, Business Insider
Augmented reality and virtual reality go hand in hand. While one allows you to enhance and improve on the environment around you, the other allows you to create an entirely different environment altogether. Together, they can change our very perception of reality, enhance it, improve it, sharpen it. At F8 2017, Mark Zuckerberg made one thing abundantly clear: he is not giving up on virtual reality. He teased the working prototype that is Santa Cruz, a sort of ‘sweet spot’ that combines the portability of Gear VR with the high-end features of the Oculus Rift in a standalone virtual reality headset.
Then there was Facebook Spaces. The virtual reality application where you could meet real people. Imagine Second Life, but in VR. A virtual space you can share with your friends and family, some of them thousands of miles away. The concept sound rather interesting, and the application is currently available for free (in early access) at the Oculus Rift Store. Be sure to check it out if you like, but do expect to run into a few bugs here and there, the project is still in its early stages of development.
Then, of course, we come to the third foundation upon which our future rests, artificial intelligence. A lot of what Facebook is currently doing with AR is tied to artificial intelligence. Facebook is currently in the process of rolling out an AI-controlled camera with its smartphone applications, one that can recognize the objects around it in real time and enable you to do various cool things with your photographs by harnessing the power of machine learning. The most cutting-edge stuff that the company has been working on, however, came from Building 8.
Building 8 is a research-and-development team aimed at releasing cutting-edge hardware products that help advance Facebook’s mission. During her keynote speech at the F8, Regina Dugan, head of Facebook’s Building 8 initiative, familiarized us with some really outlandish stuff that Facebook has been working on for the coming years. The first, and this has been the most widely talked-about thing in the blogosphere for days now, is a mind-reading technology that uses machine learning to type words onto Facebook directly from your brain. The idea, however, isn’t to just invade haphazardly into someone’s psychology; it’s “about decoding those words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain”. The second is even more out-of-the-world than the first, if that’s even possible. It is a program that is exploring ways human beings could hear through their skin. As bizarre and impossible as that may sound, when a company with billions of dollars in research funding pays heed to an idea, you are forced to pay attention.
The CEO of Facebook is not without his shortcomings. But as anyone who has been around him for long enough will tell you, he does have a certain quality about him that makes even the most impossible sound attainable. The ideas proposed over at Facebook’s F8 Conference are some of the most mind-boggling you will ever come across, and yet, somehow, it all seems possible for Zuck. While only time will tell whether Facebook is able to make good on its promises to usher this world into a new generation of technological advancement, it sure feels good to hear about it!