How Facebook Will Build the Connected World
Our plan has three parts: planetary connectivity, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
This is drawn from Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer’s second-day keynote speech for the Facebook F8 Developer’s Conference
Every generation of technology changes the way we connect with people.
A hundred fifty years ago, it took ten days to send a message from New York to California by Pony Express. With the invention of the telegraph, you could send the same message instantly. When the telephone arrived, text gave way to voice. And today, with just your mobile phone, you can video chat with someone on the other side of the world.
Over time, the trend is clear: connecting becomes faster, more efficient, more immersive. And with each invention, technology’s capacity to serve society has taken a giant leap forward. As the world has become more connected, people have gotten access to new information and opportunities.
It’s tempting to see progress as inevitable. But in every era of innovation, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs had to confront new bottlenecks — solving the technical problems that held us back from connecting in better ways. Today, we’re about to enter a new era in connection, but to get there we need to solve new challenges. At Facebook, we’re focused on three big bottlenecks to the future.
The first is planetary connectivity.
Right now, only a third of the world is connected to the internet. To connect everyone, we have to build infrastructure at planetary scale — and find new ways to bring people online.
Together with hundreds of companies, we’re working on the Open Compute Project to build data center, network, and hardware designs that are scalable, efficient, and sustainable. We’re also developing radical new infrastructure to connect people living in some of the most inaccessible areas on Earth. Today, we announced the first successful test flight of our UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) platform, which engineers at Facebook’s Connectivity Lab will deploy to connect people in remote communities.
It’s our hope that this platform — and others developed by the Connectivity Lab team — will provide new, more cost-effective solutions for our operator partners around the world. As with the Open Compute Project, we want to work with the broader community to accelerate the pace of innovation.
True global connectivity is an incredibly hard engineering challenge, but one we have to solve to make the next generation of technology more inclusive than the last.
Our second focus is building intuitive interfaces and systems that are simple and scalable, with the aid of artificial intelligence.
AI can help people connect with the things that matter to them, but it requires a new kind of machine intelligence that can understand context.
With the help of our world-class research team, we’re building these systems. We recently developed an AI that could identify 487 different categories of sports. We tested it on some obscure video footage and it worked. Who knew that “underwater hockey” is a real thing?
We’ve also developed an exciting new technology called Memory Networks, which adds a kind of short-term memory to the convolutional neural networks that underpin our deep learning systems. This allows them to understand language more deeply than ever before, and answer relatively complex questions about a text that’s never been seen before. Here’s the system being demonstrated.
These systems will help all of us navigate the always increasing volume of online information so that we can focus on things we really care about.
Finally, we’re working towards the next phase in human communication: shared experiences via virtual reality.
For the computing industry, VR has always been the dream, and now the technology to create convincing immersive experiences is just starting to appear.
Thanks to advances in processing power, graphics, and optical technology, you can put on a headset and experience the feeling of being in another place — you can achieve a real sense of presence.
Here at F8 you can put on an Oculus headset and be instantly transported live to “Hacker Square” at Facebook headquarters. The experience is so real it’s disorienting when you take off the headset and realize you’re not actually there.
At Facebook, the Oculus team is working to build the hardware and software to turn VR into something that millions of people will use every day.
With more connectivity, smarter AI, and immersive VR, people can stay closer to distant friends and family. The events and moments you share online — wishing happy birthday to a friend, celebrating an anniversary, or watching your kid ride a bike for the first time– can become even more awesome.
Getting there will require us to solve some of the hardest engineering challenges of our time, but we’re excited to be part of the next big step forward. And as we’ve done previously, as we build these technologies, we will work in the open and build communities around them so we can innovate faster together.
Not everything we’re working on will succeed. Not all the work is glamorous. But we think these are the most valuable things we can do to connect people — and I’ve never been more excited to see how the world will change and improve over the next decade.