Facebook Reality Labs boss Andrew Bosworth in developing a new medium

Photo by GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP via Getty Images

In 17 years, Facebook has grown from a college social network to a potential gatekeeper for the world’s newest computing platforms: Augmented and Virtual reality. The Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) division sells the portal videophone and the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset and is behind a range of Ray-Ban smart glasses with more advanced AR hardware under development.

Facebook also develops and sometimes funds VR -Software Competing with smaller developers. Last year the company launched its own virtual social network called Horizon in beta. It is also experimenting with a VR workspace system called “Infinite Office” that can connect the real and virtual worlds together. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic efforts could attract more people to work and socialize via VR.

. At the same time, Facebook is navigating privacy, and m This platform has been widely criticized for bringing together online extremists and allowing discriminatory targeted advertising or harmful misinformation. These issues will almost certainly follow the business in VR and AR, complicating already sensitive issues of privacy and autonomy in these new areas.

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Facebook Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Head of Reality Labs, said 2020 was an “enormous” year for VR. In a blog post last week, he outlined plans to focus more on AR and Horizon in the coming year. I spoke to Bosworth through Zoom about how FRL will address today’s problems in futuristic technology. As feasible for Horizon?

Yes, it’s definitely a possibility that we were considering. If you’re looking to create a social product, you want to reach people wherever they are and you need a headset that isn’t free when they probably already have another connected device that only blocks some people from participating. And that doesn’t feel good to any of us.

We’re going to start in VR because if you don’t get this core mechanic right then the rest doesn’t matter. There is already a ton of great software out there that solves the problem of the 2D to 2D shared feel. We’re doing one of these right now. So we really wanted to have a strong foundation for VR. One of the things we’ve always talked about is how to do this cross-platform manufacturing, how to make this something that people can use and get involved at every level they can.

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Facebook was talking about a system that would allow people to put apps on Oculus Quest that is less exclusive than the Oculus Store. What is the status of this?

I’m very excited about this direction. And the status of that is that it’s coming a lot sooner than people think.

One of the major problems for Oculus over the last year has been the switch to using the headsets through Facebook accounts. When VR becomes something you use for work, a Facebook login doesn’t necessarily seem like the best way to access it.

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I think one thing that is a piece of the puzzle that you can use it to put together is now, Since we talked about the Oculus and Facebook account linking, Facebook has talked more about account management overall. One of the areas of product focus for us is making it easier for people to manage all of their accounts. Facebook Workplace accounts are a good example. It’s one of those elements that I think as we look at Infinite Office we aim to help t This is one of the techniques people can use to feel like, “Yes, I can use my Facebook account at work and I will use that in certain contexts. “


And this is very consistent with how we want to approach this in general. We want people to have full control over who they are, right? To be Batman in VR, you can definitely be Batman. We just want them to be able to be Bruce Wayne too if they want to. So we’re trying to think of it that way: expanding the space of opportunity of “Yes, you’re Batman, but you can only be Batman ”to have much more control over who you are, your connections, and how you present yourself. That’s the job we’re looking for as Infinite Office continues to develop internally.

That seems like a kind of reversal of the way Facebook has talked about having a single identity and a unified presence online.

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I think the reality for us, especially in VR, is the ability to have a lot more control over your appearance – this is something Facebook never really looked at when you were just looking at a profile. Many of the problems at the time that Facebook was founded involved mostly authenticity on the internet. You know, nobody on the internet knows you are a dog. Authenticity was a premium feature – that you really knew who that person was and could count on it.

Now we have actually closed a circle in which you can be embodied. Facebook was never able to control how you showed up in real interaction with someone. It was never something we had to control. All of a sudden, you know, in VR we’re a broker for it. So we need to give you the full wealth of self-expression you would have access to – actually a richer set of self-expression requires new thinking. I don’t think it’s inconsistent. I think it’s just a confirmation of what this medium is.

How severely is Facebook Reality Labs’ work being limited by internet connectivity issues? Something like Horizon gets a lot harder when people don’t have fixed, fast internet access and the pandemic does I believe there are two parts. I am always impressed with what we can do on-site. I think no company has done more than Facebook to shrink artificial intelligence and run them locally on the device. For example, a portal that executes all facial recognition and camera directions locally on the device. And that’s a great opportunity that enables these devices to be useful even when they are not connected in many contexts.

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The second is certainly that you are right. The really valuable things we’re envisioning for Horizon might require a solid internet connection. Obviously, I hope that not only private companies, but governments around the world realize that Internet connectivity and access to information are increasingly a human right that we need. But even if you have limited access to the internet, again, we are seeing tremendous luck with the experience-enhancing artificial bits of intelligence that people can have.

Avatars require far fewer bits to express the richness of facial expression than [Zoom] True? This is a very high bandwidth connection. In fact, we can reduce that to a smaller number of pixels by animating my face and sending them out. And you can still have, not 100 percent accurate understanding of my expressions, but like 95 percent accurate understanding and drastically lower bandwidth cost. So there are technologies here that will really benefit. Moving towards avatars could help us connect events over limited or low bandwidth connections.

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You talked about how privacy and security concerns are affecting the work of Facebook Reality Labs. What are you specifically doing to make sure that many of the problems that have been encountered on Facebook over the last year and related to moderation aren’t occurring in something like Horizon?

I really want to separate moderation of content from privacy as the topics are very different. Content moderation is a topic that will be with us forever. It was with us. There has always been an argument about who has to be the editor and who has to be the censorship. That’s a human problem that came up, you know, as soon as the press did it. Probably before.

I’m lucky in privacy. I feel like we are creating a new range of media at the current height of the data protection debate, not just in this country but in the world. We can have these conversations openly. We are in a golden age for experts in data protection and the tradeoffs involved, and we are trying to take advantage of all the conversation that is already going on and articulate these use cases out into the world for people to discuss the business models afterward? As long as Facebook Reality Labs AR and VR use the Facebook advertising model, there will be compromises in data protection at some point.

You know that in a technology tradition, we don’t really focus on the business model. They assume that if you build a great and useful thing you will find a way to make money from it.


I believe in [targeted] advertising. I think it makes the experience that people have in the world much better than non-targeted advertising. I think it is very important for small businesses. I think it is very important to maximize the use of. That is a debate that is a distant debate for augmented reality and virtual reality. It’s not a short-term debate.

And so I have the great luxury of not worrying about it. I have enough real problems right in front of him. Before I worry about the business model, we have to build it before I can think too much about it, and I am sure that if we do, there will be many opportunities.

For a more short-term problem, people have compared Horizon to Facebook groups. What happens when a group like QAnon starts organizing on Horizon? How do you find them and decide what to do with them while threading the needle of not making it look like Are you being creepy and keeping an eye on everyone all the time?

I don’t think there is an answer to that, and there is certainly no answer that will satisfy all parties. We know this from our experience on Facebook. content moderation issues, you can expect us to lean heavily on Facebook, which has done the uprising of talking to governments, talking to experts, and is constantly reviewing its policies as the facts on the ground change.

I hope you have a posture because as soon as you take a posture, bad actors will find little loopholes. It will never end. There will be no solution. So I think people should expect to be like any digital space and, frankly, any physical space that goes back to history. You have to keep evolving what the areas of the regulation you look at the behavior.

Theverge / TechConflict.Com

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