The dust has settled after F8 last month. People are getting to grips with the bot store, the first users are tentatively making their way into Facebook’s Spaces, and creators are applying for access to AR Studio (augmented reality). After setting Facebook’s 10 year vision at least years F8, this year saw it begin to refine. After last years launches, notably of the Messenger Platform, received criticism, there were some releases clearly intended to address concerns. Facebook’s vision for social virtual reality (VR) also came closer to actually being in people’s (pixelated) hands, through Facebook Spaces.
Gaze into the future, using your phone camera.
In his keynote, Mark Zuckerberg made it very clear that Facebook's long term focus is to sync the real and digital world through AR, stating "We're making the camera the first augmented reality platform".
Tim Cook and Snapchat Inc. seem to have made an impression of Zuckerberg, as AR has risen to the headlines, compared to last years sidenote. Instead of waiting for the hardware to get to the glasses form factor as mentioned last year, they have taken a leaf out of snapchat lens’ book, using computer vision artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret the world, allowing fast, accurate and realistic AR experiences.
According to themselves, Facebook has developed the best-performing, published neural network powered image recognition system on the market. This AI helps to recognise what or who is in the images more accurately, to the extent that it can interpret the position and orientation of said person in that image.
Facebook then demoed Style Transfer, a ‘Prisma’-esque lens that places an artistic filter over what you are looking at, in real time. Facebook’s Frame Studio was also demoed, where different filters could be added onto a user’s images depending on their location. The idea is to open this system to the community, allowing user generated content to surface.
Director of Product Management Deb Liu, went on to allude to the future of AR for developers, by talking about what AI in AR is allowing developers using these updates on the Camera Effects platform to do; how the technology can transform 2D to 3-dimensionally structured data, that developers can then build on. They also announced that applications were open to get early access to AR studio.
Hang out with your friends, in the comfort of your own home
Remember when facebook bought Oculus for $2 Billion, and everyone was wondering why? Well at last year’s F8 we saw a our first glimpse of social VR. This year however, it has become a product known as Facebook Spaces - A world where you can interact with your friends in VR as an avatar created from your facebook photo made using AI algorithms (that is, if you both have a £700 Oculus headset, and a gaming computer to power it).
That being said, Facebook seems to be betting that we will one day all have VR headsets in our front rooms, and climbing Everest with your friends is potentially one button press away.
Since the explosion of bots on the Facebook Chat platform, 1.2 billion people have been using the app every month, but many were frustrated that the supposedly AI driven, all knowing bots, failed to understand the everyday user. Facebook Messenger 2.0 allows for the integration of other apps and services within the platform; they are making sure that you don't have to leave their app in order to use others. Similar to East Asian chat ecosystems Line and WeChat.
Another added feature is M Suggestions, which intends to use Chat Extensions built by developers as Messenger's AI gathers more information about the user, and machine learning to predict user behaviour. Facebook aims to make the Messenger app one of the most highly-used apps on the social media market.
The next billion(s)
There are 4.1 billion people in developing countries who are not connected to the internet, and Facebook is determined to crack this market by investing in technology that reduces the cost of delivering internet access, worldwide. There seems to be a race between Google and Facebook to reach the next billion first.
Facebook plans to do this through a few products. Terragraph, a multi-GB wireless backbone system designed specifically for more urban locations. Millimeter Wave, which plans to deliver backbone internet over long distances to link centres of connectivity, and Aquila, the high altitude, long endurance, internet-provider vehicle prototype. With these methods of extending connectivity, Facebook has also initiated the Telecom Infrastructure Project with over 450 other companies, collaborating to create cheaper technology to connect the world.
They also announced a couple of cost-effective hardware and infrastructure solutions to lower the costs of connecting to the internet.
The innovation chapter of Facebook
Facebook really pulled out all the stops in innovation to get out of the ‘Snapchat clone’ impression they’ve been given off recently, and have finally given us a sneak peak on the super secret research and development team, Building 8.
First on the agenda was a plan to create a brain-computer interface. Yes, direct from the brain. They envision users being able to type using their thoughts, without invasive implants; and eventually as an input method for VR and AR. Six months from the conception of Building 8, they have already partnered with the top brains from academia such UC Berkeley, Stanford University and John Hopkins Medical to develop this “direct brain interface”.
Also on Building 8’s agenda was skin hearing, they have been building technology that allows your skin to mimic cochlear implants, effectively bypassing your ears and translating vibrations into your brain.
The Bottom Line:
This year’s F8 seemed to flesh out some of the ideas from last years conference. From the launch of Facebook Spaces in VR, the next generation of the messenger bot platform, to opening their AR ecosystem to developers.
The extent and potential of the emerging technologies which Facebook as a company are exploring, is vast. There is a clear focus on changing the mundane and making it meaningful, but also a strong intention to bring the world, in its' entirety, into the Facebook community. Both keynotes made it very clear that Facebook are hoping to make a genuine impact on how we as humans connect with each other, and that they plan to do that with developers to achieve the best results possible.