Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta has poured over $10 billion into metaverse research this year alone.
What is he spending on, and what does he hope to accomplish in building virtual worlds?
He offered some clues last week on The Joe Rogan Experience, which is by some metrics the most listened-to podcast in the world.
The episode, which sprawled almost three hours, made headlines for Zuckerberg’s comments about his hellish morning routine and Hunter Biden’s laptop.
But the interview also offered insight into his approach toward his tenuous, oft-ridiculed metaverse empire-building.
Here are some of the major takeaways.
A new VR headset will arrive in October
Meta’s newest virtual reality headset, a successor to the Meta Quest 2, will arrive in October, Zuckerberg announced.
It will be the company’s first major VR launch since the name change from Facebook to Meta last fall.
Zuckerberg says that one of his main priorities for the headset was to make the user “feel like you’re right there with another person.”
The company has added increased facial tracking—so that your avatar might be able to smile or frown when you do.
“There’s more nonverbal communication when people are with each other than verbal communication,” Zuckerberg told Rogan.
“When you’re on a video call you don’t actually feel like you’re there with the person.
To me, what virtual reality unlocks is that it really convinces your brain that you’re there.”
Zuckerberg says Meta’s new VR headset is just one stop on a “long roadmap” towards a future not dominated by insular headsets but augmented reality (AR) glasses.
The goal, Zuckerberg says, is to shrink headsets to the size of normal eyewear, and for people to interact with the world via augmented reality or digital overlays.
Instead of looking at a phone screen for map directions, for instance, your smart glasses will simply draw a line toward the route you’re supposed to take.
“The physical world is important to our being and essence and soul,” Zuckerberg said.
Actual AR consumer products are still a ways off, however. Zuckerberg predicts that the first products will arrive in three to five years, and will “start off pretty expensive.
It’ll take a while to get down to hundreds of dollars,” he said.
When AR technology does arrive, Zuckerberg says that Star Wars-style holograms will be the norm.
He predicts that many people, instead of moving to big cities, will instead “teleport in the morning to the office and show up as a hologram.”
That future, Zuckerberg says, will be “pretty sweet” and “unlock a lot of economic opportunity for a lot of people.”
Zuckerberg also daydreamed to Rogan about virtual poker nights, in which some friends sit physically around a table, and others are beamed in, and everyone plays with hologram cards.
If an AR-dominated world comes to fruition, then Meta will have access to a scary amount of footage and real-time data.
Every step you took in public would potentially be under surveillance.
When Rogan asked if AR glasses would allow a “creep” to record people without their consent, Zuckerberg admitted it would be possible “in theory.” (He defended the product by saying that whenever a user hits “record,” a bright red light goes on.)
In mid-August, Zuckerberg posted a selfie of his digital avatar inside Facebook’s metaverse platform Horizon Worlds. It was widely mocked for being low-quality or even “soulless.”
Zuckerberg conceded to Rogan that Meta’s avatars are “obviously not super realistic yet.”
He said that while they will improve in quality over time, his aim is not to build a metaverse that looks exactly like the real world.
“I’m not actually convinced that when we have photo-realistic avatars, people are going to prefer that to the expressive ones,” he said.
If Zuckerberg gets his way, then metaverse growth will come directly at the expense of the TV industry.
He said that people will eventually be able to view their favorite shows and movies inside their smart glasses as opposed to on a screen.
Zuckerberg also criticized the cultural dominance of the TV industry and says he hopes people spend time socializing in virtual worlds instead of watching TV.
“I want to make it so the experiences we’re having aren’t just these passive things,” he said, arguing that people will build more relationships while socializing in VR as opposed to watching television.
“That actually may be a net improvement in well-being for people overall. And there’s just a ton of TV time to eat.” - Time.com