January 19, 2017
I think about the future of social media often.
I wonder where it’s all going. The pace of technological change is beginning to outstrip our capacity to make sense of the world around us and it’s only going to accelerate further.
Tech begets tech. The devices we create help us to create better devices faster and at a reduced cost. Throw AI into the mix and eventually the machines will improve on their own design independently, whilst we’re left on the sidelines scratching our heads and asking “What are we for?”
A handful of companies will drive that change. Google. Apple. And of course, Facebook to name the obvious ones.
All of them are investing massive budgets into the development of tech that augments the human experience. In the beginning we typed commands. Then we clicked icons. Then we touched screens. Now we’re speaking freely to the machine and it’s listening, learning and speaking back.
I found this graph on my internet travels and it put a lot into perspective:
In many ways, Facebook has built the perfect tech business model. Step 1: Know your audience. Step 2: Gain their trust, establish credibility, become an indispensable part of their lives. Step 3: Use all the data you have on them to pioneer technologies you already know they want.
Which, after the longest intro I think the IF blog has ever seen, brings me neatly to my main point: Facebook’s Building 8.
Facebook launched Building 8 around April last year. Ol’ Zuck himself wrote a blog post about it when it kicked off, saying it would be looking at “augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and other important areas.”
Huh. Fairly standard stuff right? It’s basically just the Big Three of futuristic acronyms that get thrown around so much we’re basically snowblind to them – “VR, AR, AI”.
But what are they really doing in Building 8? Well, for starters…
They are hiring the big guns
A lot of press coverage for Building 8 has been around who they’ve hired. Regina Dugan, anyone? Oh, she’s just the former leader of the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Rich Heley? Ex VP of product technology at Telsa.
Rafa Camargo, Richard Wooldridge, and Blaise Bertrand? All ex-Google. They were the team working on Ara, Google’s modular phone, the one you build like Lego, swapping out parts whenever you want to upgrade.
And a handful of others hailing from as far afield as Amazon and Apple to Microsoft and Motorola.
What are they doing?
Speculation as to what’s actually going on in Building 8 is endless.
Considering the fact that they are hiring for positions in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, device software, applications and services, manufacturing, supply chain and even customer service it’s a fairly safe bet that they’re building hardware.
In the calmer waters of the rumour mill you’ll hear talk of them building phones.
Seems fairly rational given all the ex-Ara hires and the fact that Facebook’s earlier forays into handset manufacturing (anyone remember the HTC First? No? Me neither…) flopped spectacularly.
Connectivity is another avenue they are probably exploring. Again, this makes sense as it ties into Project Aquila – Facebook’s ambitious project to broadcast free “basic” internet (ie Facebook) from airborne drones.
What are they really doing?
Before I dive into the deep end of the crazy pool (is that a thing? it is now…), hear me out.
Zuckerberg has made it no secret that one of his end goals is to enable us to send and receive thoughts telepathically.
Add that tasty nugget of information to the fact that Building 8 is hiring someone with a PhD in neuroscience to work on a “brain / computer interface project”, an engineer who can develop “audio signal processing algorithms” and engineers to create “breakthroughs in novel, non-invasive neural imaging technologies” and it’s pretty goddamned clear what they are up to.
Facebook wants the never-ending deluge of self-aggrandising status updates, pictures of other people’s babies and targeted adverts to be fed directly into our minds.
The good news I suppose is that it will be years before we see any of this actually happening, but rest assured, it will happen in our lifetimes and when it does, life as we know it will change in ways we can’t even predict.