Category: facebook

Facebook Finally Unveiled a Standalone VR Headset, And It’s Just $199

At the Oculus Connect 4 keynote, happening now in San Jose, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerburg just unveiled a device that could make virtual reality (VR) technologies more accessible. Introducing the Oculus Go: a standalone VR headset that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

At only $199, Zuckerberg called it “the most accessible VR headset yet.” Compared to the Oculus Rift, which costs about $600, the Oculus Go is undeniably inexpensive. Of course, at that price, it won’t offer you exactly the same VR experience. The Oculus Go will allow you to spin around while in virtual reality but not move around freely.

Image credit: Brad Jones (@Tojiro)/Twitter
Image Credit: Brad Jones (@Tojiro)/Twitter

The Oculus Go is scheduled to ship early next year, but dev kits for VR developers are expected to be available by November — and Facebook is encouraging developers to give it shot. Hugo Barra, Facebook’s VP of VR, said that it’s “hands-down the easiest way for developers to get involved with VR.” The Oculus Go comes with a “fast-switch” WQHD LCD screen, wide-field lenses, and spatial audio. It is lightweight and “feels incredibly soft to wear,” Barra said.

Further details about the device’s specs are still to come, but one thing’s for sure — the Oculus Go could open up VR technology to a wider market, as well as free them from relying on Samsung or others for VR gear.

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Does Facebook Plan to Compete With Google’s Artificial Intelligence?

Every year, artificial intelligence (AI) software bots compete and battle it out in the video game Universe of StarCraftArtificially intelligent aliens swarm and slaughter, showcasing their off-world abilities sans human meddling. But a new player representing (of all things) Facebook entered into this arena — CherryPi, an AI player designed by a team of eight people from or involved with Facebook’s AI research lab. This foray into multiplayer gaming established Facebook as direct competition for others, like Google and even individual hobbyists (three of whom finished in the top three places).

A StarCraft Tournament with human players. Image Credit: Flickr.
A StarCraft Tournament with human players. Image Credit: Flickr

Gabriel Synnaeve, a researcher at Facebook, described CherryPi as a “baseline” prototype to learn and build from, he said, “We wanted to see how it compares to existing bots, and in particular test if it has flaws that need correcting.”

Some expect Facebook and Google to lag behind independently-designed bots for awhile, despite the tech giants’ inexhaustible resources; “For a couple of years I predict the hobbyist, mostly rule-based bots, will still do well,” said David Churchill, a professor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, which organized AIIDE, an academic conference that includes contests like the StarCraft competition.

In this competition, Facebook’s stealthy AI bot placed sixth out of 28 total competitors. The winning bot, ZZZKBot, was created Chris Coxe, a software developer in Perth, Australia. So, while Facebook is relatively new to this venture, it’s learning fast. Google’s DeepMind team is also formidable, to say the least; but whichever giants emerge the victors, it’s without doubt they’ll still have much to learn from individual coders, whose passion has become an industry-pivoting (virtual) blood-fest.

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Microsoft and Facebook’s 4,000-Mile-Long Subsea Cable Has Been Completed

Under the Sea

Work on Marea, a high-capacity subsea cable spanning the 6,437 kilometers (4,000 miles) between Bilbao, Spain, and Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been completed. Microsoft and Facebook collaborated on the development, design, and implementation of the cable, while a third partner, global communication infrastructure specialist Telxius, was responsible for its construction and will take care of maintenance.

The cable is the first link of its kind between Virginia and Spain. In total, it weighs more than 5,125 tons and has a capacity of 160 TB of data per second — the highest of any subsea cable to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

A project of this scope offers up considerable challenges during construction. While coastal sections of Marea were buried under sand for protective purposes, the majority of the cable rests on the ocean floor at an average depth of nearly 3,352 meters (11,000 feet). Planners had to route the cable so that it avoided such obstacles as earthquake zones, coral reefs, and even active volcanoes.

Aquatic Assembly

Whether we’re using WiFi or mobile data plans, internet access has become indispensable in recent years. However, much of our online connectivity relies on infrastructure like Marea, and when Hurricane Sandy hit, it caused widespread interruptions to internet and phone service due to the number of cables located in the storm’s path.

This is the Fastest Internet on Earth
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“It was a major disruption,” Frank Rey, director of global network strategy for Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and operations division, explained in a blog post published on the company’s website.

“The entire network between North America and Europe was isolated for a number of hours. For us, the storm brought to light a potential challenge in the consolidation of transatlantic cables that all landed in New York and New Jersey.”

The companies are hopeful that Marea will help prevent such a lack of connection in the future. Facebook is even attempting a similar project on the West Coast, partnering with Google on a cable that will link Los Angeles with Hong Kong.

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Facebook Might Be Working on a Virtual Assistant for the Oculus Rift

Facebook could be working on a virtual assistant, along the lines of Siri and Alexa, for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Over the weekend, an anonymous Reddit user posted details of the project, having supposedly been contracted to work as a tester.

The leaker claims that the software can be used to issue voice commands relating to the Rift’s capabilities, as well as Facebook activities like replying to messages or confirming attendance at an event. There’s also support for common virtual assistant functionality, like checking weather reports and sports results.

virtual assistant facebook oculus rift virtual reality
Image Credit: Oculus

Facebook has made no secret of the fact that the endgame of its massive investment in virtual reality is to integrate the technology into its social media platform. A virtual assistant would be a much easier method of navigating Facebook than the current crop of VR controllers.

However, this information comes from an anonymous source on Reddit, so it should be taken with a grain of salt — especially since it references games that not received official Rift support, like Alien: Isolation. The user account, the original post, and a gallery of screenshots submitted as proof have now all been deleted.

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Watch the Live Solar Eclipse Here, Thanks to NASA and Facebook

The country is preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the first time in just shy of a century, the United States will be experiencing a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse. (Our more recent eclipses were only visible from Hawaii, in 1991, and the Pacific Northwest, in 1979.) Solar eclipses can only be viewed through special devices, or viewers run the risk of irreversible damage to their eyes and vision. But if you were unable to come across a pair of eclipse glasses or to craft your own viewing box, NASA and Facebook have you covered.

Starting at noon EDT today, NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse on Facebook. A representative from the social media company told Business Insider that the eclipse is “the most important astronomical event in the social media era.”

“While this total eclipse will pass right over the U.S., it really is an event for everyone on Earth,” added science guy and Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye in a statement this morning. “Experiencing an eclipse changes the way we feel about space and how we are connected. I hope this moment reminds us all that we share a common origin among the stars, and that we are all citizens of the same planet.”

Experts expect this event to be one of the most shared experiences of all time. Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer at the University of Redlands told The Atlantic, “This will be the most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history.”

So whether you procrastinated getting your glasses or you’re stuck in your basement office all day, you’ll still get a chance to witness history in the making.

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Mark Zuckerberg Responds to Elon Musk’s Warnings About AI

Strong Opinions

A conversation has been going on between proponents of artificial intelligence (AI) and those wary of the technology. The former proclaim the wonders of AI, while the latter see future problems that these intelligent systems could cause. Some of the world’s leading innovators and tech industry moguls have weighed in on both sides of the argument, and one of the more prominent voices warning about the dangers of AI is Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.

White House AI Report: Everything You Need to Know [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Recently, Musk told a group of U.S. governors that unchecked AI is potentially the “biggest risk we face as a civilization,” and he has previously warned that researchers must not lose sight of the potential ramifications of their AI endeavors. To say that Musk is against AI is inaccurate, however — he’s actually working diligently to improve the technology and ensure that it’s used responsibly (see: OpenAI).

Nevertheless, experts have been quick to call out Musk for being too alarmist about AI, and now, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressed his own disappointment in Musk’s comments. “I have pretty strong opinions on [AI]. I am optimistic,” Zuckerberg said during a Facebook Live broadcast, responding to a question posted by one user. “And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios — I just, I don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.”

A Balancing Act

Zuckerberg pointed out during his broadcast that AI systems make self-driving cars possible, something Musk is very much aware of. AI has proven very helpful in industries like healthcare and transportation as well, and as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted, AI is an “enabler” for many industries. “It will empower and improve every business, every government organization, every philanthropy,” he said at a conference in Washington.

If we know that AI can be a big help, where does all the fear come from? Right now, some people may be drawing their opinions of AI from what they see in works of science fiction, like Terminator. While such an extreme evolution for the tech is highly unlikely, Musk has a point: AI can present problems in the future.

Whether these problems come to fruition depends on how we choose to use AI. Zuckerberg acknowledged this, saying, “Technology can generally always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build and how it is going to be used.”

The best course of action at this point is to continue developing and studying AI. Then, we must incorporate what we learn into smart policies and regulations that will guide this incredibly important work. The IEEE has taken the lead in coming up with guidelines for ethical AI, and groups like the Partnership on AI, which Facebook and Amazon are a part of, is engaged in similar work.

As long as we are smart about how we use artificial intelligence, we should have nothing to fear.

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Facebook Wants to Start Selling a $200 VR Headset by Next Year

If you’ve been in the market for a more affordable alternative to Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, you might be in luck: a report from Bloomberg on Thursday claims that the social media giant is planning to unveil a cheaper, standalone version of the tech by next year.

The current market for virtual reality tech runs the gamut from thousand-dollar setups to lower cost versions that require tethering to a smartphone or computer. Facebook’s concept for their new VR product will be something in between — both in functionality and cost. According to Bloomberg’s report, the model will retail for $200. A representative from Facebook told Variety that, although they don’t have a product to share at the moment, the company “can confirm that we’re making several significant technology investments in the standalone VR category.”

*3* Facebook Wants to Start Selling a 0 VR Headset by Next Year
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The new model, which Facebook hopes to have on the market by 2018, will likely be similar in functionality to existing VR headsets: ideal for immersive video game experiences and integration with social networking. The specs for the new headset haven’t been finalized yet, but as it is slated to be a more affordable option, it is at least certain that more people will be able to access the technology. Facebook is reportedly planning to reach out to app and game designers this fall ahead of the 2018 product launch.

Outside of Facebook’s $200 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift back in 2014, companies like Apple, Sony, and Google have all thrown their hats into the VR ring. Back in May, Google partnered with HTC and Lenovo to create the new Vive standalone virtual reality headset, and in January, Lenovo announced their newest VR headset, which was priced between $300 to $400.

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Facebook’s Drone Is One Step Closer to Beaming Internet to the World

Second Successful Test Flight

Facebook’s solar-powered Aquila drone completed its second successful flight Thursday near Yuma, Arizona. It stayed aloft for 1 hour and 46 minutes, cruising over the desert and gathering data the team will use to optimize its efficiency moving forward. After the flight was over, the drone landed smoothly without incident, Mark Zuckerberg reported in a Facebook post.

This was the latest step in the Aquila project which will eventually see an entire fleet of the drones staying in flight for months at a time. The unmanned drones will need to be completely optimized to make this kind of longer term performance possible, so these test flights are critically important. Zuckerberg said that Facebook intends to use the drone to increase the world’s access to the internet.

“When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook. “Today, more than half the world’s population — 4 billion people — still can’t access the internet. One day, Aquila will help change that.”

Future Directions

Aquila’s wingspan is wider than a Boeing 737, but it weighs less than 455 kg (1,000 pounds). To stay aloft, Aquila’s solar panels collect power during the day and stores enough in a battery for the dark hours. It uses about 5,000 W of power at its cruising altitude, which will be about 18,300 meters (60,000 feet). Aquila cruises at a deliberately slow speed of about 129 km/h (80 m/h) to maximize efficiency.

The Top 12 Benefits of Drones: Emergency Response, Animal Protection, and More
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Right now the Aquila team is working to make the craft lighter and trim down its power consumption. They also aim to more accurately assess how much power it will take to operate during the different altitudes and temperatures of take off, flight, and landing, and how those power demands will affect battery size, latitude range, solar panel performance, and seasonal performance. Additional test flights will also allow the team to assess actual in-flight dynamics and see how the massive drone batteries stress the large, flexible wings.

The Aquila fleet is just one way Facebook is working to connect people with technology. Zuckerberg has also revealed that the company is working on a brain-computer interface that will let us communicate using just our minds.

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Social Media Giants Just Formed An “Anti-Terrorism Partnership”

Four of the biggest names in tech and the internet have joined forces to fight terrorism right at its online roots. Microsoft, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter have created the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

Terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, use social media as a tool for recruitment, and often those platforms are heavily criticized for their inadvertent facilitation of such activity. As a response, Twitter has released a blog post that goes over the goals of the new forum, saying, “We take these issues very seriously, and each of our companies have developed policies and removal practices that enable us to take a hard line against terrorist or violent extremist content on our hosted consumer services.”

Fighting Fake News: Can Technology Stem the Tide?
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The forum will help these social media companies to cooperate more easily with each other as well as with governmental agencies, smaller companies, and non-governmental organizations with an interest in battling terrorism.

Assessing the successfulness of existing anti-terrorist recruitment efforts is difficult, if not impossible. However, with greater cooperation, we can ensure that methods can be researched and deployed on a larger scale to maximize effectiveness.

Fighting terrorism has long been more than simply a matter of boots on the ground. With rapid technological development, the battle is getting even more complicated. We can only hope this initiative can help to mitigate the damage.

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A Facebook AI Unexpectedly Created Its Own Unique Language

The Future of Language

A recent Facebook report on the way chatbots converse with each other has given the world a glimpse into the future of language.

The History of Chatbots [INFOGRAPHIC]
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In the report, researchers from the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab (FAIR) describe training their chatbot “dialog agents” to negotiate using machine learning. The chatbots were eager and successful dealmaking pupils, but the researchers eventually realized they needed to tweak their model because the bots were creating their own negotiation language, diverting from human languages.

To put it another way, when they used a model that allowed the chatbots to converse freely, using machine learning to incrementally improve their conversational negotiation strategies as they chatted, the bots eventually created and used their own non-human language.

Not the Singularity, but Significant

The unique, spontaneous development of a non-human language was probably the most baffling and thrilling development for the researchers, but it wasn’t the only one. The chatbots also proved to be smart about negotiating and used advanced strategies to improve their outcomes. For example, a bot might pretend to be interested in something that had no value to it in order to be able to “sacrifice” that thing later as part of a compromise.

Although Facebook’s bargain-hunting bots aren’t a sign of an imminent singularity — or anything even approaching that level of sophistication — they are significant, in part because they prove once again that an important realm we once assumed was solely the domain of humans, language, is definitely a shared space. This discovery also highlights how much we still don’t know about the ways that artificial intelligences (AIs) think and learn, even when we create them and model them after ourselves.

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Terrorists Are Using Social Media for Recruitment. Here’s How We Can Stop Them.

Challenges of Combating Terrorism

On the Sunday following the UK terrorist attack on London Bridge, British Prime Minister Teresa May leveled a portion of the blame at social media sites in a televised address, saying “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet — and the big companies that provide internet-based services — provide.”

It is the latest blow in a long spar between civil institutions and privately owned social media companies. Three lawsuits have been filed against social media giants in the last year by the families of the victims of Pulse Nightclub in Florida, the events in Paris in November 2015, and the San Bernadino attack in December 2015. But even when social media outlets take on the responsibility of combating terrorism-inciting content, they face many challenges.

First, the problem of the content’s form — which is usually video. There have been successful auto-content blockers developed for photographs, but video poses an entirely new problem. While photos could be relatively easily scanned, videos contain hundreds of individual frames, which makes scanning them far harder.

The quantity of these videos is also daunting. On Facebook alone, around 100 million hours of video are watched daily, which is a huge amount to moderate. The problem is amplified by copies and shares, all of which can be reposted even if the original is removed. If there is no adequate software solution for monitoring these videos, the becomes an almost impossible feat — requiring humans to look for virtual needles in the some of the biggest data haystacks the world has ever known.

Technology and Privacy Forecast 2017
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On top of this, social media companies must also balance safety against privacy and human rights. A press release from Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube in December, 2016, reiterated their commitment “to prevent the spread of terrorist content online while respecting human rights.” This shows the tension between moderation and surveillance — where does the line lie between “terrorist content” and free speech? And how many of our civil liberties concerning privacy are we willing to sacrifice for the unguaranteed promise of being safer?

This is complicated further by company policies of free speech and documentation. Youtube’s policy states that they permit media “intended to document events connected to terrorist acts or news reporting on terrorist activities” as long as those clips include “sufficient context and intent.” This creates a thin line that automated software would find extremely difficult to traverse, even if sufficient video filtering software was developed.

New War, New Weapons

In order to save countless lives from terrorist attacks, which are becoming ever more frequent, new tools must be developed. But for now, the strongest tool we have against terrorist content online is our own diligence. While Mark Zuckerberg is hiring 3,000 people to find and block violent videos, managing such a large amount of content is only possible with the support of an equally large community that will report terrorist content.

Marking tools are also being developed to tackle problem of terrorists using the video format. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has developed eGLYPH, which finds the unique signature for each video or video segment called a “hash” and then reports any usage it finds during scans to the relevant moderator.

The most comprehensive of these databases is CEP’s own. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube, though, have refused the free database access and free use of the eGLYPH tool, choosing instead to form their own consortium. But any development made here will not apply to live-streamed video, which creates content real-time and so could not be mitigated by any database. This has already become a reality with the case of the terrorist Larossi Abballa.

In the near future, we may have artificial intelligence managing the process. Zuckerberg claimed in a letter that Facebook is working on algorithms that would be able to “tell the difference between news stories about terrorism and actual terrorist propaganda,” as well as identify other inappropriate content. While Google’s AI and Microsoft’s and Elon Musk’s OpenAI may be used in a similar manner, no official announcement has been made yet.

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Mark Zuckerberg Just Signed a Death Warrant for Smartphones

It’s no secret Mark Zuckerberg is pinning Facebook’s prospects on augmented reality — technology that overlays digital imagery onto the real world, like Snapchat’s signature camera filters.

At this year’s F8 conference, taking place this week, Zuckerberg doubled down on the company’s ambitious 10-year master plan, which was first revealed in 2016. According to this timeline, Facebook expects to turn artificial intelligence, ubiquitous internet connectivity, and virtual and augmented reality into viable parts of its business over the next decade.

The Facebook 10-year road map, first revealed in April 2016. Facebook

To accelerate the rise of augmented reality, a big part of the plan, Zuckerberg unveiled the Camera Effects platform — basically a set of tools for outside developers to build augmented-reality apps that you can access from the existing Facebook app’s camera. That would theoretically open the door for Facebook to host the next phenomenon like “Pokémon Go.”

While this announcement seems pretty innocuous, make no mistake — Facebook is once againputting itself into direct competition with Google and Apple, trying to create yet another parallel universe of apps and tools that don’t rely on the smartphones’ marketplaces. As The New York Times notes, Zuckerberg has long been disappointed that Facebook never built a credible smartphone operating system of its own.

This time, though, Facebook is also declaring war on pretty much everyone else in the tech industry, too. While it’ll take at least a decade to fully play out, the stuff Facebook is talking about today is just one more milestone on the slow march toward the death of the smartphoneand the rise of even weirder and wilder futures.

Why Buy a TV?

Zuckerberg tipped his hand, just a bit, during Tuesday’s Facebook F8 keynote. During a demo of the company’s vision for augmented reality — in the form of a pair of easy-to-wear, standard-looking glasses — he showed how you could have a virtual “screen” in your living room, bigger than your biggest TV.

“We don’t need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app ‘TV’ and put it on the wall and watch it,” Zuckerberg told USA Today ahead of his keynote. “It’s actually pretty amazing when you think about how much of the physical stuff we have doesn’t need to be physical.”

Zuckerberg says the goal is to release glasses, like these, that can project virtual objects like chessboards or even TVs onto what you see. Facebook

That makes sense, assuming you’re into the idea of wearing a computer on your face (and you’re OK with Facebook intermediating everything you see and hear, glitches and all).

But it’s not just TVs. This philosophy could extend to smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, fitness trackers, or anything else that has a screen or relies on one to work. Zuckerberg even showed off a street art installation that’s just a blank wall until you wave the Facebook camera app over it to reveal a mural.

For Microsoft, which has already dipped its toe in this area with its HoloLens holographic goggles, this is a foregone conclusion. HoloLens boss Alex Kipman recently called the demise of the smartphone the “natural conclusion” of augmented reality and its associated technologies.

War of the Worlds

The problem, naturally, is that a huge chunk of the world’s economy hinges on the production of phones, TVs, tablets, and all those other things that Facebook thinks could be replaced with this technology.

Even Zuckerberg acknowledges it’s a long road ahead. That said, this Camera Effects platform, should it succeed in attracting a bunch of users, could go down as a savvy move. The apps that are built for the Facebook Camera today could wind up as the first versions of the apps you’d use with those glasses.

Microsoft’s futuristic HoloLens goggles provide an early look at Facebook’s goal. Microsoft

In the short term, Facebook’s play for augmented reality is going to look a lot like competing with Snapchat — and in a meaningful way, it is. Facebook needs developer and user love, so it needs to keep offering fun and funny tools to keep people from moving away from using its apps.

In the long term, though, this is Facebook versus everybody else to usher in an age of a new kind of computing — and pretty much every tech company out there will get caught in the crossfire, as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and more rush out their responses to this extremely existential, but still meaningful, threat.

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Facebook Engineer Asserts That Augmented Reality Will Replace Smartphones in 5 Years

Augmenting Technologies

Last week, Facebook’s annual developer conference (FB8) gave us a glimpse of the future. While most of the announcements made during the event were meant for developers, it doesn’t take a techie to understand how they will impact the lives of Facebook’s more than 90 million consumers.

VR, AR, And MR: What’s The Difference? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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One of the most interesting project announcements came from Facebook’s uber-secretive Building 8 (B8). The division is currently working on a top-secret brain-computer interface (BCI) similar to Elon Musk’s neuralink, but that BCI project isn’t the only “future tech” Facebook currently has in the works.

According to Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Facebook-owned Oculus Research, super augmented reality (AR) glasses could replace smartphones as the everyday computing gadget in the next five years.

Augmenting Realities

It’s definitely not an outlandish prediction. Abrash explained that despite all the current hype around AR, the tech hasn’t yet reached its defining moment. “[I]t will be five years at best before we’re really at the start of the ramp to widespread, glasses-based augmented reality, before AR has its Macintosh moment,” he said on Day 2 of FB8.

Widespread adoption, however, would take a few more years. “20 or 30 years from now, I predict that instead of carrying stylish smartphones everywhere, we’ll wear stylish glasses,” claimed Abrash. “Those glasses will offer [virtual reality], AR, and everything in between, and we’ll use them all day.”

Image credit: Facebook, screenshot
Image credit: Facebook, screenshot

If Facebook’s Oculus team has any say, these super AR glasses would be capable of far more than just augmenting reality. They could give the user “superpowers” by enhancing the wearer’s memory, providing them with instant foreign and sign language translation, and isolating and muting distracting sounds and noise.

Facebook isn’t the only company invested in AR. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also been rather bullish about AR as the technology of the future, and with so many tech behemoths involved, five years seems like a completely realistic timeline for tech that will change everything about reality as we know it. After that, it’ll be on to combining these AR glasses with BCI, and that’s a truly high-tech future worth waiting for.

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Facebook is Going to Use Drones to Beam Internet Everywhere

Beam it down, Zuckerberg

On Wednesday April 19, Facebook revealed test results to the F8 developer conference from its efforts to get rural regions around the world online, and function as a source of disaster relief. The social platform created a small helicopter that’s connected to a power source and an internet cable (called a Tether-tenna) which in turn connects it to existing fiber lines. It can then fly above ground, serving as a tower during emergencies. Although this tech is a long-term plan for now, Facebook says it could eventually provide connectivity for months at a time while communities rebuild in the wake of disasters.

The high-speed corollary for populated areas, Terragraph, is being tested in downtown San Jose. Terragraph, which launched last year, boosts wireless in places with denser internet use. Facebook is making progress with the tech but says there’s still work left to do.

Facebook’s first flight of the Aquila drone — built for beaming internet service using millimeter wave technologies to provide faster data speeds — also took place in 2016. Although, the drone suffered a “structural failure” during its landing, triggering a National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Test flights will continue in 2017.

Perhaps most exciting is the data transfer record Facebook set this month with its beaming technology: it tested a rate fast enough to support the simultaneous streaming of 4,000 ultra-high-definition videos. It also beamed data back and forth to a plane more than seven kilometers away. However, not everyone is that excited about Facebook’s new tech. India blocked Facebook’s Free Basics program in 2016, saying it could “stifle innovation” and create an unfair playing field.

Facebook isn’t the only player in the internet beaming game. Google’s Project Loon is still a thing, although the company is now aiming for balloons that stay aloft for weeks rather than months. And back in 2015, Stanford engineers were working on optical data transfer, something that various companies, including Apple, are still working toward.

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Facebook Finally Released Details on Their Top Secret Brain-Computer Interface

Facebook’s annual developers’ conference is in full swing this week. Ultimately, the event serves as an opportunity for the company to unveil their most innovative products and reveal key details about upcoming projects. And nothing is more promising or intriguing than what’s coming out of Facebook’s mysterious Building 8 (B8).

Currently, we know very little about B8, as none of their projects have been officially detailed, but rumors are swirling, and it’s not like we don’t know anything. We have some big, overarching information about the general work being done. It seems that B8 is working on four primary projects. These are said to include augmented reality, drones, cameras, and direct brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Yes, Facebook is working on computers that are meant to interface with our brains.

The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces [INFOGRAPHIC]
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During the opening event yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that, today, speakers at the conference would discuss where they are in relation to their work on the BCI technology.

At the event, he stated that we would “hear from Regina Dugan about some of the work that [they are] doing to build even further out beyond augmented reality, and that includes work around direct brain interfaces that are going to, eventually, one day, let you communicate using only your mind.”

Dugan is a former DARPA executive. She also worked for Google’s advanced projects division. Now, Dugan has finally released information about the work B8 has been doing. The highlights and video of the event are below (this story is developing):

  • Facebook is working to develop a brain-computer interface that will, in the future, allow individuals to communicate with other people without speaking. Ultimately, they hope to develop a technology that allows individuals to “speak” using nothing but their thoughts—unconstrained by time or distance.
  • They want to create “category defining products” that are “social” first, products that allow us to form more human connections and, in the end, unite the digital world of the internet with the physical world and the human mind.
  • Dugan notes that the brain produces about 1 terabyte per a second. However, through speech, we can only transmit information to others at about 100 bytes per a second. Facebook wants to get all of the information that is transmitted to our speech center out of the “brain” and into the world (to allow us to get it to others at will).
  • For their beginning work, they hope to allow all humans to “type” and “click” through our brains in order to interact with our technology. For example, people with ALS could type—not with eye blinks—but with their thoughts. Thus, they wish to “decode speech” and allow all individuals to communicate using our brain waves.

  • Initially, their goal is to allow people to type 5 times faster than people can type on a smartphone straight from their brain. This means that they are developing technologies that can “read” the human brain in order to transmit this information.
  • Next, they will work to allow people to “type” a staggering 100 words a minute using their thoughts. That’s far, far faster than most humans can type on a computer. The average person types between 38 and 40 words per minute.
  • They have developed actuators that allow people to “hear” through their skin.Ultimately, with Facebook’s technology, humans can “feel” words.
  • Eventually, they want to allow people to think something and send the thought to someone’s skin. Additionally, they will allow people to think something in one language and have a person receive the thought in an entirely different language.

This article has been updated to clarify the nature of the brain interface and what information Facebook is hoping to capture and transmit to the outside world. 

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Inside Building 8, Facebook’s Secret Innovation Weapon

Facebook’s Building 8

In April 2016, Facebook announced the launch of Building 8, a research lab to develop hardware projects in the style of DARPA. The internet behemoth even enlisted former DARPA executive Regina Dugan to head up the division. Dugan, who was part of Google’s advanced projects division before taking on Building 8, has been leading an “all-star roster of tech veterans” since the project started.

*2* Building 8: Facebook’s Secret Innovation Weapon

Currently, Building 8 has four projects underway, and they touch upon cameras and augmented reality, devices that fly, and even brain-scanning technology. According to Business Insider, the technical lead for each project functions as a mini-CEO for the team, which has two years to produce a proof of concept.

None of these new products have been released yet, but Facebook’s developer conference, FB8, takes place in San Jose, California, on April 18 and 19, and Building 8’s new toys could play a central role at the event, though nothing on the schedule explicitly mentions the division.

A Range of Innovation

With Building 8, Facebook took a risk, stepping into hardware development despite a lack of experience in that realm, and they’re now competing against giants like Google and Apple. The new division is even structured very similarly to Google’s ATAP and X moonshot lab, and teams are conducting research in some of the same areas.

A Facebook that can read your mind has been on Mark Zuckerberg’s mind for a while now, and Building 8’s team includes a neuroscientist, formerly of Johns Hopkins, who was part of the team that developed a mind-controlled prosthetic arm. This scientist now leads the brain-scanning tech project for Building 8.

Introducing both virtual and augmented reality into the Facebook world has also been an interest of Zuckerberg’s, and another current Building 8 project involves cameras and augmented reality.

*2* Building 8: Facebook’s Secret Innovation Weapon
Image Credit: Facebook

A third project with medical applications is being led by a Stanford interventional cardiologist with expertise in the development of early stage medical devices. These academic collaborations are also a part of the Facebook long game, which culminated with the launch of SARA, the “Sponsored Academic Research Agreement,” in December 2016.

Building 8 is also taking to the air with the help of Frank Dellaert, a computer vision and robotics expert leading what appears to be a consumer drone project. Dellaert was previously the chief scientist at Skydio, a drone startup, and that company’s former head of hardware, Stephen McClure, has also signed on to Building 8. They are joined by several former GoPro employees. Dugan wrote of Dellaert, “He’s going to help us make things fly … when he’s not guarding the door.”

Building 8 is reportedly planning to jumpstart a fifth project, as yet unspecified and leaderless.

Based on the highly qualified hires for Building 8, Facebook appears to view the division as a long-term investment and is quite serious about manufacturing and selling its own devices — whatever they turn out to be.

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Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Can Now Identify Suicidal Behavior

Facebook has gradually grown from supposed social media fad to an everyday essential that has amassed a monthly base of 1.86 million users. The ever-scaling operation frequently pushes out new features to keep users interested, and at the moment, its flagship project is Facebook Live, a service that lets users broadcast real-time videos to their followers. While it has found favor with professionals and laymen alike, it has also become an unfortunate platform for live suicides.

*4* Facebook’s AI Software Can Identify At-Risk Users for Help

Noting that live suicides had occurred on similar platforms before, Facebook has been working to develop a pattern-recognizing algorithm that could check for signs even before the tragic incident occurred.

Now, when suicide-like behavior is detected, Facebook will provide the at-risk user with resources that range from the ability to contact a friend or helpline to a few potentially helpful tips for dealing with depression without halting their stream. On the other end, viewers can flag broadcasts that they think demonstrate at-risk behavior while also receiving guidance from Facebook on how to proceed.

While the system is rolling out worldwide, the option of contacting a crisis counselor helpline via Facebook Messenger will be available in the U.S. only.

Image Credit: Facebook

Skeptics may argue that a message from Facebook might not be as effective as immediately involving a friend. However, Vanessa Callison-Burch, a Facebook product manager, told BBC that the social media company is hoping to avoid invading anyone’s privacy or tampering with personal dynamics between friends. They acknowledge how critical a fast response time is, so as soon as the system identifies an at-risk user, a community operation’s team rapidly reviews the case.

The U.S. alone averages one suicide every 13 minutes, and it is the country’s tenth leading cause of death. While Facebook’s system is still new, it is reassuring to see that the social media company is dedicated to protecting its users from adding to this troubling statistic.

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Here’s How The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative Aims To Eliminate All Disease

A Billion Dollar Plan

More often than not, we visit the social media giant, Facebook, as a part of our daily ritual. What’s many might not know about the company is that its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are heading an initiative to eliminate all disease. It’s known as the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative.

It is a $3 billion plan that has already created the independent non-profit, Biohub. Biohub

Universal-Basic-Income-A-Beginners-Guide_home_v1 (1)

plans to utilize $50 million in funding that will go towards the recruitment of 47 scientists, technologists, and engineers from some of the greatest research institutes in the nation: UC-Berkeley, UCSF, and Stanford. 

One central theme in the recruitment of innovators is the idea of risk. While many public institutions award grants based on certain variables, Biohub’s co-founder, Stephen Quake asserts that they, “are trying to take on things that are above their[public institution’s] threshold of risk.” However, this does not mean that the researchers intend to go without additional funding sources. In fact, the 3 billion dollars allocated to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative pales in comparison the $30 billion that the National Institute of Health (NIH) spends annually on medical research.

A Long Term Goal

You might be scratching your head thinking how $3 billion dollars from Chan and Zuckerberg will somehow be the key to eradicating all diseases when the NIH itself spends $30 billion annually.

When it comes to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, it’s not just about the money, it’s about the method. It’s about accelerating non-traditional means of research that may, in the long-run, lead to more impactful outcomes. The aim is to spread $1.5 million across a five-year period to the selected scientists so that they are more likely to receive an NIH grant later.

As they say: with great risk, comes great return. Hopefully, the bold methods of this initiative will pay off and we will have better methods to combat disease.

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AI Forecast for 2017


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Study Discovers Millennials Aren’t the Biggest Users of Social Media

Millenials, or those aged from 18 to 34, are often saddled with a lot of unfair and unnecessary blame. Thanks to a new Nielson report, they just got some ammunition against those who’d scold them for being glued to social media. According to the report, Generation Xers, or those between the ages of 35 to 49 spend more time on social media than their younger peers. The numbers boiled down to an average of 6 hours 58 minutes a week on social media networks for Gen X, compared to 6 hours 19 minutes for the Millenials.

Regardless of who is using Facebook a few more minutes a day, it is clear that the noses of either demographic are too often stuck in front of a screen. Smartphones should enhance our lives, not dictate who we talk to, what we devote attention to, and monopolize how we interact with the world.

The Time Well Spent movement was formed to make people more conscious of how large a part social media is playing in their lives. The tenents of the movement are to “Live better with more empowering settings for our media and devices.; change incentives so media competes to improve our lives, not get eyeballs,” and to “invent new interfaces that help us to make room for what matters.”

So whether you’re a Millenial, Gen Xer, Boomer, or otherwise, we should all work to allow our devices to enhance our lives.

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Facebook Is Investing a Staggering $3 Billion in Virtual Reality

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company plans to invest more than $3 billion in the next 10 years to make virtual reality (VR) available on the platform, the New York Times reports. The “announcement” was made in the unlikeliest of situations: while Zuckerberg was testifying in federal court as part of a $2 billion intellectual property lawsuit between ZeniMax Media and VR giant Oculus.

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in March 2014 for $2 billion was the first step in Zuckerberg’s VR play. Since then, his social networking company has been working on ways to make VR available on its platform, beginning integration in March 2016 despite skepticism from Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey. Since then, not much has been said about the project, except for the occasional demonstration and those VR emojis.

Zuckerberg’s dreams of VR for everyone — everyone on Facebook, that is — could actually be a step in the right direction. While VR devices were initially built around gaming technology, applications have long since expanded into other fields. VR is changing medical research, military training, and so much more. But essentially what virtual reality is doing is letting us see and interact with the world differently — be it by wandering Google Earth, viewing forests from an animal’s point of view, or even just test driving our future kitchens.

Credits: Facebook
Credits: Facebook

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Predicting 2017: How Future Energy Will Change Our Lives

The transition from one year to the next is always a little uncertain – an uneasy blend of anxiety and optimism, it’s also a time of retrospection, introspection, and even a little tentative prognostication. And since the latter is our stock-in-trade at Futurism, we believe now is the perfect time to look ahead at what 2017 has in store for us.

2016 was a remarkable year for energy—solar power became cheaper than fossil fuels, Elon Musk unveiled new solar roof tiles, the US installed its first commercial offshore wind farm, and a teenager devised a method for creating cheap “solar leaves.” If last year is any indication, 2017 promises to be an even wilder ride.

Here’s a look at some of the ways the coming year promises to revolutionize our energy future.

Emerging Markets

2017 may well be the year that some of the most promising emerging energy markets…well, emerge. Foremost among these is Africa, where we’ve seen the spread of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar startups—such as PEGAfrica—which provide solar arrays to households in West Africa on credit.

The business model obviates the need for a secure energy infrastructure by combining solar photovoltaics (PV) with energy storage and mobile pay technology—a simple, effective plan for supplying electricity where it’s most needed. PAYG solar is spreading through Africa like wildfire and 2017 promises to see more of it, with new startups getting in on the act, and new technologies refining the business model. Africa could be the new energy frontier, with a renewable energy infrastructure that might just become the envy of the world.

Major Corporations Go Green

If the use of renewable energy is to become economically competitive, then it’s incumbent on the largest energy consumers to commit to its development and consistent use—and this is just what we’re beginning to see the major Silicon Valley tech corporations start to do. Google has announced that it plans for all of its data centers to be powered by renewables no later than 2017. Facebook’s targets are more modest, but its newest data center—set to be constructed this year in Los Lunas, New Mexico—will receive 100 percent of its power from renewable energy.

Rendering of Facebook's proposed data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico. Credit: Facebook
Rendering of Facebook’s proposed data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico. Credit: Facebook

All of this translates into a massive new injection of capital investment in renewable energy technology, which could make 2017 the tipping point for innovation and affordability as major energy companies and startups alike scramble to fill this huge unmet need. At the same time, the aviation giants are bankrolling something of a green revolution of their own—this time involving the use of renewable jet fuels.

JetBlue made headlines when it announced a massive renewable jet fuel purchase agreement, and quality aviation biofuels have finally reached the market with Honeywell Green Jet Fuel and Neste Renewable Aviation Fuel.  Look for 2017 to be the year when airlines make major investments in biofuels, and start the shift toward their regular use.

New Frontiers in R&D

Meanwhile, the coming year will see a number of new innovations in the evolution of cleaner, more efficient energy systems as scientists and startups leverage massive national investments in research and development to pioneer novel technologies.

Take the US Department of Energy’s budget request for FY 2017, which includes a preview of key research initiatives for the coming year.  We can expect important investments in clean transportation—whether it’s slashing the cost of battery and energy storage technology, developing next generation biofuels, researching advanced sensors and data analytics for improved energy management, or further refining vehicle automation and connectivity. Other areas of research will concentrate on more efficient power conversion using supercritical CO2, whether in conventional fossil fuel plants or concentrating solar power arrays, and combining pumped hydroelectric energy storage with solar PV.

And let’s not leave out fusion research: 2017 could be the year of remarkable new breakthroughs in fusion energy, with startups like General Fusion and Tri Alpha attempting to achieve on a (comparative) shoestring what lavishly funded behemoths like the ITER Project have failed to do.

The Fly in the Ointment

Extrapolating 2017 from the developments in 2016 is all very well and good; but when it comes to forecasting the future, it really boils down to the unanticipated. And there are many variables that could change the equation—perhaps none more important than the incoming Trump administration.

President-elect Trump has signaled a desire to shift the country’s energy policy away from the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy—in fact, reinvigorating the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal, was a major cornerstone of his campaign. But if his pledge to upgrade the country’s infrastructure is to bear fruit, it will have to include some degree of renewables, since the increasing efficiency and affordability of clean energy is making it more economically attractive. Ironically, 2017 may see tremendous private and public investment in alternative forms of energy, especially if Trump’s promise to wean the country off its OPEC dependency (holding one’s breath is not advised) is to have any chance of success.

And then there’s the Tesla wildcard—by which we mean that Elon Musk could change the rules of the game at any moment. Last year’s introduction of the Tesla “energy ecosystem” opened up the possibility of a future in which every home becomes a power plant; and we can only expect more similar developments in 2017. The cliché “game-changer” was coined for people just like Musk; look to see him further justify that sobriquet in the coming year.

Last year was full of surprises—some anticipated, others decidedly not. 2017 promises to be no different. Market forces and accelerating research and investment means the avalanche in disruptive new energy technologies will continue in the new year; we clever little apes will persist in finding extraordinary new ways to eke out more energy to power our thirsty civilization.

So stay tuned to Futurism—we’ve got everything hungry minds need to survive 2017.

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Mark Zuckerberg Just Unveiled His Newest Creation, an AI Named Jarvis

Real Life Tony Stark

At the beginning of this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg challenged himself to build an AI system to run his home and help him with work. He named the project Jarvis, after the fictional AI system built by Marvel’s Iron Man. This Jarvis may not have the wit or the Mind Stone of his namesake, but what Zuckerberg has managed to build is pretty impressive.

Zuckerberg recently explained the process of building Jarvis, while also being quite candid about its strengths and weaknesses. The system helps him and his wife Priscilla around the home by turning lights on and off, letting them know where their dog Beast is, or alerting them if their daughter is stirring in her room.

Not only did Zuckerberg have to come up with ways to connect all of these devices, but he also had to do so safely. As Fast Company explains, the home network is essentially an extension of Facebook’s infrastructure, which “imposed limits on what he could control. Internet-connected fridges, for example, don’t come with Facebook security certificates. That’s not a problem for most people, but most people aren’t Mark Zuckerberg. Keeping his security at home airtight was a primary concern.”

One of the more interesting aspects of his project was how Zuckerberg chose to interact with Jarvis.

One thing that surprised me about my communication with Jarvis is that when I have the choice of either speaking or texting, I text much more than I would have expected. Similarly, when Jarvis communicates with me, I’d much rather receive that over text message than voice. That’s because voice can be disruptive and text gives you more control of when you want to look at it. Even when I speak to Jarvis, if I’m using my phone, I often prefer it to text or display its response.

He says there is a trend toward text communication over voice, and that is going to play an important role in the future of AI interaction. However, he doesn’t downplay the significance of voice recognition capabilities, “on a psychologic level, once you can speak to a system, you attribute more emotional depth to it than a computer you might interact with using text or a graphic interface.”


Learning How to Code Learning

Throughout the project, Zuckerberg was curious to see the areas in which artificial intelligence (AI) has advanced beyond what we thought possible, as well as how we’re still short of the mark.

AI is closer to being able to do more powerful things than most people expect — driving cars, curing diseases, discovering planets, understanding media. Those will each have a great impact on the world, but we’re still figuring out what real intelligence is.

Therein lies the crux of Zuckerberg’s year-long AI odyssey. It takes a lot of work to program AI to complete specific tasks, and while impressive, its not exactly learning on its own.

We are still far off from understanding how learning works. Everything I did this year – natural language, face recognition, speech recognition and so on – are all variants of the same fundamental pattern recognition techniques. We know how to show a computer many examples of something so it can recognize it accurately, but we still do not know how to take an idea from one domain and apply it to something completely different.

Zuckerberg is rightfully proud of his achievements over the course of this year. He recognizes that what he can create in 150 hours of free time over a year is nothing compared to what his company’s top engineers could create in the time available to them. Since Jarvis is so entwined with his home, he has no plans to release the code as of yet, but someday the tech could serve as a base for future products: “If I ever build a layer that abstracts more home automation functionality, I may release that. Or, of course, that could be a great foundation to build a new product.”

It’s safe to say that Zuckerberg was successful in this challenge, and we look forward to learning what goals has in store for 2017.

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