Facebook’s big developer conference of the year, F8, is coming to a close. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the other speakers made some pretty big announcements, like the Camera Effects Platform, on the first day, but the second day’s keynote speakers focused on connectivity, artificial intelligence, and again on virtual and augmented reality.
Some new features are available now, such as Facebook Spaces, while others have timelines that could extend 5 to 10 years.
Watch the streams
If you missed the Facebook Live streams, you can watch them directly from the Facebook for Developers page here.
The Camera Effects Platform
CEO Zuckerberg announced a new Camera Effects platform, which will enhance the new camera featured in both the Facebook app and Facebook Messenger. The camera improvements and additions so far are “act one,” and act two will be about adding effects to build an augmented reality experiences. Camera Effects launches in beta today with basic effects but will grow to 1,000s of options, with help from third-party developers. Camera Effects will include major classes of features to add to the experience including location mapping, 3D, and more.
Virtual reality is continuously gaining steam, and Facebook is a major player — it owns Oculus, after all. The social media giant’s new Spaces platform will provide virtual environments where you and your friends can interact with avatars you choose based on your profile photos. You’ll need a VR headset to try Facebook spaces, like the Oculus Rift. The beta app version is available now in the Oculus store.
Group Chat Extensions
Chat Extensions essentially brings Facebook Messenger chat bots into group chats. The go a little further than the average chat bot, because they feature more interactivity with more people. The Spotify bot, for example, can share tunes with everyone in a Messenger session. The OpenTable bot can book restaurant reservations for a party of five. More are on the way from the Food Network, Kayak, and TheScore.
Facebook is lifting its sights higher, literally. Moving beyond merely trying to connect everyone on the planet via social networks and messaging, now the company is looking to the atmosphere and the stratosphere to develop technologies that can bring internet connectivity to everyone, including populations that are currently unserved or underserved and crisis areas where power and communications systems are down.
Artificial intelligence work is moving along at a fast pace as computers learn about the world. Just two years ago Facebook’s AI team identified 20 classes of questions then-current AI engines struggled with. Now, with those types of questions mastered, they’re proceeding with thousands of question classes. Today, for example, an AI system can ingest every article in Wikipedia and accurately answer any questions from that content. The team also working on algorithms for what they refer to as “casual 3D image capture” to be able to understand and respond to context as well as content.
Facebook had a big year with virtual reality, shipping Oculus Rift and Touch with the much lower-priced 2017 Samsung Gear VR coming soon. Facebook knows, however, that what people really want are glasses that can help experience all the senses, not just vision. Comparing virtual reality today to personal computing before the Apple Macintosh brought huge qualitative advances to people’s experience, Facebook said the true breakthrough will come when we can mix real and virtual worlds everywhere. At that time, still years away, we’ll all want comfortable glasses for always-on virtual computing. Drawing another reference to current technology, Oculus scientist Michael Abrash asked the audience to think how much smarter we are now thanks to the PC and phone. He said AR glasses will mix VR with the real world will make us even smarter. Abrash predicted that VR and AR’s “Macintosh moment” is 5 years distant at best.
Some of the coolest over-the-top content in today’s keynote included developments and future projects in augmented reality. Facebook executive Regina Dugan said now’s the time to be back in the room and focus on how the powerful force in today’s smartphones can be used for better connections with people next to us, not just reaching those who are far away. She spoke of speech as a lossy compression algorithm and the potential of a direct brain-to-PC interface as a powerful force for change. Dugan showed examples in Facebook’s Building 8 of a woman typing using just her brain, and of another person detecting thought by “hearing” with skin. To push immersion further, Facebook announced two 360 degree cameras still in development that will allow movement within the image via additional lenses.