Social networks contain multitudes. One day you are writing about internal dissent about the company’s ability to root out campaigns of influence and electoral interference; right after that, you’re watching a live stream of the same company’s foray into virtual reality helmets and designer mixed reality glasses. In a company with as many interests as Facebook has, different days require different types of stories. And so today’s edition will be very different from yesterday’s.
This is all an indirect way of saying that I spoke to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Connect. The event, formerly called Oculus Connect, offers the company an annual opportunity to discuss the latest advancements in next-generation computing platforms. Facebook has at times faced doubts as to why a social network would invest so much time and money in a hardware project with no uncertain results. But a summer of escalating tensions with Apple helped prop up the case: if you want to control your destiny, you must own your platform.
Today Facebook announced Quest 2, which costs $ 100 less than its predecessor at $ 299 and less hefty to boot. The VergeAdi Robertson liked it a lot, calling it “the new default for virtual reality, if you agree with Facebook”. Facebook didn’t disclose sales numbers for the Quest, but Zuckerberg said the company sold as many as it could make. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, who leads the company’s hardware projects, told me that Quest 2 was a significant leap forward.
“We’re doing something that I honestly think is totally crazy and awesome,” he said. “Which is to take a successful product – greatly exceeding our expectations – and retire it prematurely and replace it with a better, cheaper one. I don’t know how many times in my career I will be able to do this. It might just be one, but I’m thrilled. “
With augmented reality, Facebook is just a few steps away. Snap released the first generation of Spectacles in 2016; Facebook won’t have a product on the market this year. But the company says its first attempt at consumer “smart glasses” will come next year. And in the meantime, it announced Project Aria, a more comprehensive augmented reality hardware research prototype that will soon be provided to Facebook employees and contractors to begin testing.
Taken together, the projects could represent Facebook’s biggest bet on what the future might look like. And like other projects with global ambitions, it will also invite a new control over privacy, data security, content moderation and more. I talked to Zuckerberg about how he uses virtual reality, how Facebook will manage privacy risks, and why he doesn’t want to create “an Apple Watch for your face.”
Here are the highlights of our discussion, slightly modified for length and clarity.
Casey Newton: So where are you on this long road to making virtual reality mainstream?
Mark Zuckerberg: Virtual reality, I think is on its way. We had this milestone in mind that before we had to bring technology to the place where you could have a standalone headset, it could be portable, it could be high quality – do the monitoring and all. And Quest was the big milestone in that. So, from an ecosystem perspective, we believed that if we get to 10 million active units, then that’s some kind of critical magic number.
At that point, you have a self-sustaining ecosystem. This is the next big push: How can we make technology more accessible to more people? An important part of that was to make it more affordable and to make it more portable. … And we are not yet 10 million, but I am optimistic that in the next few years we will get there. And that will truly be a new phase of virtual reality.
Of course, the form factor still has a lot you want to work on. It’s a bit clumsy today.
And the AR glasses?
AR will just be much more difficult. I don’t really think augmented reality is going to be any good until you have normal looking glasses that can project holograms out into the world. And now, the glasses range from thin to quite thick frames. I don’t think we’re anywhere near getting all the electronics you’d need to fit into a slim chassis. But the hope is that you can put it in more normal looking glasses in the early part of this decade or the first half of this decade.
And this is going to be challenging and people will take different approaches to make it work. The biggest shortcut that many people are trying to take is to basically try not to make complete holograms in the world and only show some warning information. I call it “putting an Apple Watch in your face”.
Personally, I don’t find it particularly convincing. It is not a product that we are particularly excited to make. Maybe someone else will make it. It doesn’t fit the kind of social use cases we care about primarily.
If not an “Apple watch on your face”, what is the exciting potential use of these glasses?
The thing that excites me about virtual and augmented reality is the feeling of presence. The idea that this is the first computer platform in the history of computing, where you really feel like you are there with another person. Right?
Providing a sense of presence is the thing that interests me. And VR and AR will be the technologies that will. VR by fully immersing yourself in a new environment and AR by bringing people into your existing environment via holograms. So in the future, instead of a video chat, I’ll just sit on my sofa and your hologram can appear on the sofa next to me, or I can hologram in your house. And part of the reason it will be so much better than video chat is that we will then be able to have virtual objects that we can interact with together. If we want to play cards, I can have a deck of cards.
If you think about the way Spotify gave us access to the previous catalog of music, virtual reality will give us access to the back catalog of objects that we can watch or interact with – with other people, wherever we go. Something that will be a different experience than the kind of 2D video chat we have today.
This is the kind of thing that makes me excited about it. I feel like we have been developing social software in these boxes that are defined by other platforms for my entire life and for the entire existence of our company. And I’m thrilled to be able to get out of some and find a space where you can interact more naturally.
To what extent has the pandemic changed the way you think about virtual reality? Do you have a different idea of what’s possible or what might be more urgent than before?
So I definitely think COVID has changed my view on some of these things. For one thing, the concept of remote presence with video is now much more widespread than before. It used to be a kind of work tool that people sometimes used when they had to. But now as if they were all in it all the time. So the idea of wanting to be present at a distance with people, I think is much more prevalent now – through video, not necessarily through AR and VR.
Many people think that AR is the thing that matters, and VR is this little niche thing. My view of this has changed. I actually think virtual reality is going to be pretty important for people too. And in the next few years I think it will grow much faster.
So I’ve always been focused on both. But I think I’m maybe even a little more optimistic at this point than I was before I saw how people use it during blockages.
With Project Aria, put cameras on people’s faces. There was a big debate on the ethics of this when Google Glass first came out, but it’s been a long time since then. How do you plan to get into that debate?
I think the first thing is that we should talk about more issues in advance.
One of the things I’ve learned over the past few years is that you don’t want to wait until you have problems to discuss how to deal with them. And not just internally: having a social conversation publicly about how society thinks these things should be addressed. Because these conversations take some time to process and with hardware development the cycles are long. We are mapping the hardware that we will ship in 2024 now. So, should any problem arise, it will take a long time before you can fully address these things.
I know there are a lot of questions. If you ask a lot of people what they want glasses to be able to do, one of the canonical things people will say is that they wish they could walk into a room with many other people and be told by the glasses who the people are. And maybe you want it, but this goes straight to all the questions about facial recognition, biometrics, and the information you should be able to have access to. These are real questions. It is not simple or straightforward what the answer will be.
I think we’re starting to have these conversations now, so that when the technology is ready, we can at least get a first consensus on how to deal with this – I think it’s just incredibly important.
* * *
Some footnotes: Zuckerberg told me that the games he is playing the most in his Quest 2 right now are the frisbee robot battle game Echo VR and the zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine. Facebook released its “principles of responsible innovation” on Wednesday: they intend to address the numerous concerns related to the development of AR eyewear. Ben Thompson wrote a widely read post about why he thought VR would be smaller than AR in 2018.
Today in news that could influence the public perception of large technological platforms.
In decline: Conspiracy theories about the origins of the Oregon fires are still spreading through private individuals Facebook groups, days after the social media giant announced it was cracking down on false claims. Many of the rumors claim that the fires were started by Antifa. (Ashley Gold / Axios)
Here are all the news that have come out of the seventh edition Facebook Connect. The event was virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Adi Robertson, Nick Statt and Ashley Carman / The Verge)
Oculus Quest 2 is “everything I liked about the original Quest at launch, but with the benefit of a stronger ecosystem developed over the past year,” he says. The Verge’s Adi Robertson. The screen is better, the device is lighter, and the price is much cheaper. The only downside, for some, is that it requires a Facebook account. (Adi Robertson / The Verge)
Oculus is selling a more comfortable head band for the Quest 2 than the standard cloth option. The plastic “Elite Strap” offers more support and some counterweight to the heavy mass of the headset. (Adi Robertson / The Verge)
Facebook opened pre-orders for Quest 2 today and will launch the headset on October 13 in 22 countries. (Adi Robertson / The Verge)
Facebook launches its first pair of consumer “smart glasses” next year as Ray-Ban. The glasses won’t be classified as AR devices, which suggests they may be closer to something like Snap’s Spectacles, or perhaps Amazon’s Echo Frames. (Nick Statt / The Verge)
Facebook announced that it will allow creators to put their AR effects in Messenger and Portal. The move gives augmented reality effects creators more places to share their work. (Ashley Carman / The Verge)
Facebook and Cyan Worlds announced it Myst will receive a VR remake for Oculus Quest later this year, which will launch after the release of the next Oculus Quest 2 headset. (Adi Robertson / The Verge)
⭐ A group of Republican senators led by Marco Rubio is calling trump to reject Oracle proposed agreement with Tic knock if the app doesn’t stop dealing with ByteDance. “We remain opposed to any agreement that allows China-based or subsidiary entities to maintain, control or modify the code or algorithms that run any US-based version of TikTok,” Rubio wrote. Reuters Alexandra Alper has more:
“We are heartened that this deal still requires government approval, and if reports indicating this proposed deal will maintain links to ByteDance or other Chinese-controlled entities, we strongly urge the administration to reject this proposal for security reasons. national, “he added. […]
The letter, also signed by Senators Thom Tillis, Rick Scott, John Cornyn, Roger Wicker and Dan Sullivan, is part of a growing chorus of lawmakers who are raising questions about the deal.
Oracle an offer for Tic knock does not solve the trump national security concerns of the administration. Officials fear that under the current agreement, ByteDance may still have access to the user data of nearly 100 million TikTok users in America. (Saleha Mohsin, Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs / Bloomberg)
Oracle deal with Tic knock could be worth more than $ 1 billion in annual revenue for Oracle’s cloud business over the next few years. The deal would also take away business Google is Amazon, cloud competitors that TikTok has been using for the past two years. (Amir Efrati / The information)
Oracle has been pushing the reform of Section 230 for years in an effort to harm rivals such as Amazon is Google. Now, a deal with Tic knock it could mean that he also needs the law. (Emily Birnbaum / Protocol)
A conservative group is paying teens to pump messages in support President Trump over it Facebook is Twitter. Both companies have suspended or removed a number of accounts involved in the campaign. (Isaac Stanley-Becker / The Washington Post)
Donald Trump he retweeted an image that he accused without foundation Joe Biden to be a pedophile. Twitter he said the retweet “currently does not violate Twitter’s rules,” but did not explain why. Alright then! (Maegan Vazquez / CNN)
President Trump has appointed longtime telecommunications attorney Nathan Simington as the next commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Simington played a significant role in the Trump administration’s social media executive order issued over the summer. (Makena Kelly / The Verge)
The Federal Trade Commission is preparing to file a possible antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. The lawsuit could come later this year, though the FTC has reportedly not made a final decision on whether to sue Facebook. (Brent Kendall, John D. McKinnon and Ryan Tracy / The Wall Street newspaper)
Former Facebook employees working at the political nonprofit Acronym are hoping to harness the power of the platform to defeat President Trump. Traditional liberals have been slow to lend their support. (Arielle Pardes / Wired)
Facebook India’s top executive said no one, including warring leader Ankhi Das, can unilaterally influence the application of content on the platform. Das was in trouble for failing to remove a post from a politician from India’s ruling party, because she thought it would damage Facebook’s business opportunities in the country. (Manish Singh / TechCrunch)
QAnon is co-opting a USPS phishing campaign, baselessly claiming that scammy text messages are related to human trafficking. Unintentionally countering a phishing scam by spreading misinformation about human trafficking is very 2020, to say the least. (Zoe Schiffer / The Verge)
Awareness on QAnon it has risen dramatically since March, and most Americans who know of it think it’s bad for the country. However, this feeling is not shared equally between the parties. Only about a quarter of Republicans who know QAnon think it is very bad for the country. (Pew Research Center)
Nearly two-thirds of young adults in the United States are unaware that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Nearly a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth. Talk to your young adults, folks! (Harriet Sherwood / The Guardian)
Apple She said Epic’s the problems are “completely self-inflicted” and accused the company of “starting a fire and pouring gasoline over it” in a new Fortnite archiving. The company said Fortnite can revert to iOS at any time, provided Epic removes the custom in-app payment system that triggered the removal of the game in the first place. (James Vincent / The Verge)
The Justice Department has accused five Chinese citizens of hacking against more than 100 organizations in the United States. Hacking targets include social media and video game companies, as well as universities and telecom providers. (Eric Tucker / Associated Press)
The international ethics groups that design guidelines for artificial intelligence are mainly made up of people based in Europe or the United States. Without greater geographical representation, they are likely to repeat only the classic mistakes. (Archive page of Abhishek Gupta Victoria Heath / MIT Technology Review)
The highest court in the EU has ruled that it is illegal to block or slow traffic once a user’s data limit is reached, just because that traffic is not part of a zero-valuation agreement. The move closes an important loophole in the rules of net neutrality in Europe. (David Meyer / Luck)
On May 4, a Nigerian man became the first known person in the world to be sentenced to death via a virtual court on Enlarge. The move was part of an attempt to speed up the judicial process during the pandemic, but it was too fast for many people. (Kechi Nomu / Rest of the world)
⭐ Stars included Kim Kardashian West, Katy Perry, is Mark Ruffalo frozen them Instagram accounts today to support the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. Critics have called it a stunt. Here is Kellen Browning a The New York Times:
The reaction resembled scolding about how #BlackoutTuesday, an Instagram trend intended to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement by posting images of black boxes, was an ineffective performative gesture rather than a substantial action.
“These stunts are useless if they are temporary and short-lived (which they always are)”, tweeted Jenna Golden, the head of a consulting firm in Washington, mirroring a common sentiment shared on Twitter. “If anything, they highlight the fact that we can’t live without these platforms as everyone always comes back (including brands).”
Teenage girls dominate Tick knock, going from zero followers to hundreds of thousands in days. The constant devotion and attention of their fans can be difficult to deal with. (Kaitlyn Tiffany / The Verge)
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek defended the company’s decision to exclude transphobic content Joe Rogan on the platform. Rogan signed an exclusive deal with Spotify earlier this year. Some of the Spotify staff have felt alienated from some episodes of his podcast. Spotify, welcome to the hell of content moderation. (Joseph Cox and Emanuel Maiberg / Vice)
The New York Times is Facebook has entered into a multi-year partnership to co-develop augmented reality filters on Instagram, specifically for New York Times journalism. The first filters will include interactive visual elements related to coverage of California fires and air quality during the COVID-19 blockade. (Sara Fischer / Axios)
An entire industry was born around management Contraction stars. But people in the industry say there is rampant exploitation behind the scenes. (Cecilia D’Anastasio / Wired)
“Daaang. Today was wild. Post a big dinner tonight to make me feel better.” – Me, every single day, since March 11th.
– Yassir Lester (@Yassir_Lester) September 10, 2020
What if we get rid of Facebook (destructive) and instead create one big Excel sheet with everyone’s birthdays (useful)?
– Allison Raskin (@AllisonRaskin) September 15, 2020
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