July 3, 2015
The recent Facebook “townhall Q&A” session with CEO Mark Zuckerburg has left the internet buzzing about what the future holds for the world’s biggest social media network.
The hour-long session saw Zuckerburg fielding questions from everyday Facebook users and famous personalities such as Stephen Hawking and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The big topics were Facebook’s real name policy, the company’s focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Zuckerburg’s Internet.org project and the future of communication technology.
What emerged from the session was a vision for Facebook’s future that was inspiring and, depending who you ask, somewhat terrifying in equal parts.
The meaning of sharability
On the AI front, Zuckerburg explained that the technology they are developing is mainly for the purpose of understanding the meaning of what people share.
“…we’re working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use,” Zuckerburg said.
“For example, if we had computers that could understand the meaning of the posts in News Feed and show you more things you’re interested in, that would be pretty amazing. Similarly, if we could build computers that could understand what’s in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn’t see that image, that would be pretty amazing as well. This is all within our reach and I hope we can deliver it in the next 10 years.”
The results of Facebook’s AI research are already available through Facebook’s Moments app. The app scans the images on your phone and, using facial recognition technology, matches the faces it finds to your Facebook friends.
Zuckerburg’s overall vision in developing AI is admirable as the amount of content and information continues to snowball. If AI could cotton-pick content for us to eliminate the abundance of irrelevant information we are served daily, this would fix one of social’s biggest turn-offs and result in a more qualitative, personalised user experience.
A rose by any other name…
Facebook’s decision to prohibit users from using adopted names on the platform has led to a lot of controversy over the past few months. LGBT community members, Native Americans and victims of domestic violence have all spoken out against the rule which has seen certain accounts being suspended for not using real names.
Zuckerburg’s argument for the decision is based on the fact that users are far less likely to engage in abusive behaviour if they are using their real names.
He went on to clarify that “Real Name” doesn’t mean your legal name.
“Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you,” he said. “If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that. In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community.”
Internet with frickin’ laserbeams
Of all the projects Zuckerburg mentioned in his Q&A, Internet.org is the one that could have the most far-reaching results in terms of community uplift.
Zuckerburg’s vision is to be able to “connect hundreds of millions or billions of people who do not have access to the internet today”. He hopes to do this by using drones, satellites and lasers to provide the basic infrastructure necessary to roll out internet access anywhere in the world.
“This work is very important because internet connectivity brings jobs, education, health and communication. Research has shown that for every 10 people connected, we can raise roughly 1 person out of poverty. So through this work we can potentially raise hundreds of millions of people out of poverty around the world,” said Zuckerburg.
When asked about Facebook’s future, Zuckerburg replied saying that one of the trends Facebook is hoping to improve is the way people share content.
To quote ‘Zuck’ himself:
“We used to just share in text, and now we post mainly with photos. In the future video will be even more important than photos. After that, immersive experiences like VR will become the norm. And after that, we’ll have the power to share our full sensory and emotional experience with people whenever we’d like.”
He went on to say that he believes one day we will be able to send full rich thoughts to one another using technology. We will be able to just think of something and our friends will be able to immediately experience that thought (if we so choose).
Telepathic poking anyone? A flood of holiday, wedding and baby pics being beamed directly into your frontal lobe? Call me cynical but knowing my friends and the type of content they share I’d worry about my mental health if they were ever able to beam that directly into my mind.
Jokes aside, Facebook has revolutionised the way we communicate, share content and connect with one another. However, if Zuckerburg’s vision for the future of the company is realised, the changes we’ve witnessed since Facebook’s inception in 2004 are nothing compared to what’s to come.