At last week’s Facebook F8 conference in San Jose, California, CEO Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on his ambitious 10-year plan for the company, first revealed in April 2016.
Here’s the current version of that roadmap, revealed by Zuckerberg last week:
Basically, Zuckerberg uses this road map to demonstrate Facebook’s three-stage game plan in action. First, you take the time to develop a neat, cutting-edge technology. Then you build a product based on it. Then you turn it into an ecosystem where developers and outside companies can use that technology to build their businesses.
When Zuckerberg announced this plan last year, it was big on vision but short on specifics.
On Facebook’s planet of 2026, the entire world has internet access, with many people likely getting it through Internet.org, Facebook’s connectivity arm. Zuckerberg reiterated last week that the company was working on smart glasses that would look like your everyday Warby Parkers. And underpinning all of this is
And underpinning all of this is artificial intelligence that Facebook says will be good enough that we can talk to computers as easily as chatting with humans.
A world without screens
For science-fiction lovers, the world Facebook is starting to build is very cool and insanely ambitious. Instead of doing our computing through smartphones, tablets, TVs, or anything else with a screen, it would be projected straight into our eyes as we type with our brains.
A mixed-reality world is exciting for society and Facebook’s shareholders. But it also opens the door to some crazy future scenarios where Facebook – or some other tech company – intermediates everything you see, hear, and maybe even think. As we ponder the implications of that kind of future, consider how fast we’ve already progressed on Zuckerberg’s timeline.
We’re now one year closer to Facebook’s vision for 2026, and things are slowly but surely starting to come together, as the social network’s plans for virtual and augmented reality, universal internet connectivity, and artificial intelligence start to move from fantasy into reality.
In fact, Michael Abrash, the chief scientist of Facebook-owned Oculus, said last week that we could be just five years away from a point where augmented-reality glasses become good enough to go mainstream. And Facebook is now developing technology that would let you “type” with your brain, meaning you’d type, point, and click by thinking at your smart glasses. Facebook is giving us a glimpse of this with the Camera Effects platform, making your phone into an AR device.
Fries with that?
The potential here is tremendous. Remember that Facebook’s mission is all about sharing, and this kind of virtual, ubiquitous “teleportation” and interaction is an immensely powerful means to that end.
This week, Oculus unveiled Facebook Spaces, a “social VR” app that lets denizens of virtual reality hang out with each other, even if some people are in the real world and others have a headset strapped on. It’s slightly creepy, but it’s a sign of how Facebook sees you and your friends spending time together in the future.
If you’re wearing those glasses, there’s no guarantee that the person who’s taking your McDonald’s order is a human, after all. Imagine a virtual avatar sitting at the cash register, projected straight into your eyeballs, and taking your order.
With Facebook announcing its plans to revamp its Messenger platform with AI features that would also make it more business-friendly, the virtual fast-food cashier is not such a far-fetched scenario.
Facebook Messenger chatbots have struggled to gain widespread acceptance since they were introduced a year ago, but as demonstrated with Microsoft’s Xiaoice, and even the Tay disaster, we’re inching toward more humanlike systems that you can just talk to. And if Facebook’s plan to let you “hear” with your skin plays out, they could talk to you while you’re wearing those glasses, and you could reply with just a thought.
If we’re all living in this kind of semi-virtual world, it makes Facebook the key to every interaction and, crucially, every financial transaction we conduct in that sphere. It could make the company a lot of money.
So yes, while this world is still at least a decade away, it’s all happening bit by bit. But with Facebook facing fresh questions about its role in our personal lives and elections, it’s important to remember that much of this gives the social network – as well as companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, which are all pursuing the same ends – unprecedented control over our conceptions of reality. It’s time to ask these questions now, not later.