Facebook Inc. Unveils Ten Year Roadmap

  • At the annual F8 developer conference, Facebook unveiled an ambitious ten year roadmap.
  • The roadmap includes Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR), and global Internet access.
  • Here's why all of this is important to investors.

At the annual F8 developer conference, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) unveiled a ten year roadmap that shows how the world's leading social network is on its way to becoming a multifaceted tech giant. The roadmap was presented by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, whose F8 keynote address is available on Facebook video.

"This speech was personally important to me and I spent a lot of time writing it," noted Zuckerberg. "It's about why connecting the world is more important now than ever. It's about having the courage to choose hope over fear. This isn't about any one person or country. It's a worldview about connecting all people and nations. And it's a roadmap to help get there. I hope that after you watch this you're as optimistic about the future as I am."

The deployment roadmap for the first five years is focused on Facebook's ecosystem and products like video, search, groups, Messenger, Whatsapp, and Instagram. In fact, Facebook intends to strengthen current products and make them much more immediate and responsive, as shown by the recent announcement of Facebook Live Video streaming for everyone, with new impressive social features. In the meantime, Facebook's research and development arm will perfect next-generation products intended to boost Facebook's growth in the next five years, including advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR), and extending Internet access to billions of people around the world.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Facebook created a research lab to develop hardware products and advance Facebook's strategic plan. The lab, dubbed Building 8, will be led by Regina Dugan, who most recently led the Google Advanced Technology and Projects group at Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL), and before that was the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

"I'm excited to have Regina apply DARPA-style breakthrough development at the intersection of science and products to our mission," said Zuckerberg in another Facebook post. "We'll be investing hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars into this effort over the next few years. I'm excited to see breakthroughs on our 10 year roadmap in augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and other important areas."

Building 8 will build new hardware products that mix the physical and digital worlds, such as the virtual-reality camera unveiled this week, which captures 360-degree video, and help other Facebook teams on longer-term projects, including its artificial-intelligence research lab and its Oculus virtual-reality division, which recently started shipping its first VR headsets.

“Building 8 is an opportunity to do what I love most," said Dugan. "Tech infused with a sense of our humanity. Audacious science delivered at scale in products that feel almost magic. A little badass. And beautiful.”

A social VR demo at the F8 conference showed two people separated by 35 miles interacting in VR with hand gestures, voice chat and head movements. The pair connected in VR as naturally as if they were standing together, UploadVR reports with high praise. The demo, which shows how important hand movement and low latency are to compelling social VR interactions, used hand trackers not included in the boxes being shipped now but scheduled for shipping later this year.

Facebook is currently focusing on VR technology, which places the user in a virtual world with full 360-degree visual and auditory immersion. But AR technology, which augments the user's perception of the real world with virtual annotations, such as street maps and directions, through interface devices like Alphabet's Google Glass, is on the horizon. According to Zuckerberg, VR will merge with AR and become part of everyday life, The Verge reports.

"Over the next 10 years, the form factor's just going to keep on getting smaller and smaller, and eventually we're going to have what looks like normal-looking glasses that can do both virtual and augmented reality," said Zuckerberg. "And augmented reality gives you the ability to see the world but also to be able to overlay digital objects on top of that."

Connecting the world, including the billions of people in rural areas and remote regions, is an important part of Facebook's long-term roadmap because Facebook's core business depends critically on how many people have Internet access and how much time they spend online. In October, Facebook and satellite operator Eutelsat announced a joint initiative to launch a satellite into orbit that will connect millions of people to the Internet.

It appears that Zuckerberg, who recently joined the Board of Breakthrough Starshot, the most visionary space project ever, is serious about Facebook's role as a tech giant with world-changing initiatives. But the company can be relied upon not to lose sight of profitability and financials, and tie new ambitious projects to its core business, which is a reassuring news for Facebook investors.

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