Thoughts on Facebook’s 2017 F8 Developer Conference

Facebook held the first day of its annual F8 Global Developer Conference yesterday. This two-day gathering of the world’s most Facebook-centric tech minds is typically an opportunity for top-brass to present the latest and greatest straight from the developer’s labs, and in turn, please shareholders by artfully showcasing how they plan on increasing stock value.

As per usual, Mark Zuckerberg was the keynote speech at the event. This year, his focus was on emerging technologies in the fields of virtual/augmented reality and artificial intelligence. The chief protagonist to the proliferation of this technology is Facebook’s proprietary SLAM technology, or Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. His presentation covered the wide variety of ways that the technology can be used in everyday life by Facebook users; from layering in objects onto still images, adding animations to live-action videos, to full-blown AR environments and games.

The technology and its applications certainly seem fascinating, and limitless. Zuckerberg & Co. are trying to figure out how to monetize this emergent technology and tap into a multi-billion dollar market that is ripe for the taking. In Zuckerberg’s words, they want to make everyday mundane activities fun and shareable with others.

While my first thought was about how cool this technology would be if it were incorporated into everyday life, I couldn’t help but think about an episode of Black Mirror that I recently watched. For those of you who haven’t seen Black Mirror, it is described as a “British anthology series that features speculative fiction with dark and sometimes satirical themes that examine modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies.” I highly recommend checking out the ’15 Million Merits’ and ‘Nosedive’ episodes.

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Black Mirror’s ’15 Million Merits’ episode presents us with a grim view of the use of AR technology.

In 15 Million Merits, the chief antagonist is a slave-worker working away in a seemingly dystopian society not too far into the future. The authorities keep these workers in line and distracted through the invasive use of AR technology. At the height of the episode, the antagonist reaches an emotional crescendo, ultimately making a pivotal stance against his captors, with hopes of sparking a revolution of sorts. Throughout the episode, the use of AR presents us with a stark look into how this technology can catalyze distraction, all the while limiting creative thought.

This episode is obviously meant to be a dark contrast from today’s reality. My hope is that Facebook’s plunge into VR/AR tech will ultimately bring tangible benefits to our everyday lives, beyond just the average social media post and like. Just like how skype revolutionized the way we connect with each other in real-time, the technology has the potential to bring us closer to one another in ways we have only previously seen in movies and television shows.

Time will only tell whether if Facebook’s 10-year gamble will pay off. A gamble Zuckerberg is seemingly going all-in on.

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