Andrew Bosworth: "People will have superpowers"
Facebook has no greater hope in any technology than in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Facebook’s VR chief Andrew Bosworth wants to attract a billion users for this. The glasses should be able to solve fundamental problems of humanity. On the way there are still a few challenges to be mastered.
WORLD: Mr. Bosworth, there is hardly any other project that puts as much effort and money into Facebook as virtual and augmented reality. Why?
Andrew Bosworth: Our mission is to connect people. However, we see that there is a strong desire to connect with each other even more than before. Previous technologies such as smartphones and browsers have limits that we are slowly reaching. That’s why we have built our portals, which are mainly about video telephony. With virtual reality, we can go much further.
WORLD: What does the user get out of it?
Bosworth: Think about commuters and the hours you spend in traffic just to be in a room with other people. You could spend a lot more time with your family.
WORLD: The promise was also there when video conferencing was introduced. But nothing came of it.
Bosworth: I know. Also VR will never be as good as a real encounter. But if we manage to make our avatars look more natural and, for example, have facial features and master facial expressions, we are already a long way ahead.
WORLD: When will it be ready?
Bosworth: We are on our way there. We have a research team that is already very close to this with the help of machine learning. In the meantime, this is no longer a challenge for researchers, but rather for development engineers.
WORLD: Facebook’s goal is to bring a billion people into virtual reality. How is this to succeed?
Bosworth: If VR is able to solve fundamental problems for people, we will succeed. We are currently solving problems in individual industries. Our Oculus VR glasses are used, for example, in companies for the training of employees. We are expanding these areas of application.
WORLD: But that’s not how you get to a billion users, is it?
Bosworth: The best way to reach a billion users is not always the direct way. It’s not always about getting as many users as possible as quickly as possible. It is often better to work with enthusiasts and early adopters first, so that the product is ready when the moment comes for the mass market.
WORLD: How does augmented reality fit into this strategy?
Bosworth: AR goes one step beyond VR. So these technologies are interconnected on the way to a future that gives people more freedom from physical boundaries. AR glasses no longer exclude other people in the area. Our goal is an augmented reality glasses that you can wear all day. You can then display virtual objects in your environment.
WORLD: What impact do you expect?
Bosworth: We believe that VR and AR will bring a similar fundamental change to society as the personal computer. Imagine that every display that surrounds you no longer exists physically, but only in augmented reality. You will no longer have a watch and a smartphone. This will be a dramatic change. All this will happen. The only question is when.
WORLD: What else will change?
Bosworth: People will be able to enrich their perception with superpowers. If you are in a noisy restaurant, you can use a microphone to focus on the one person in front of you and hide everything else. Or you can strengthen your eyesight and see from a distance whether this is your bus, to which you now need to run.
WORLD: Superpowers? Are you thinking about implants?
Bosworth: We are really thinking more about glasses. There are still some technical challenges. The displays must be recognizable both in sunlight and in the dark. Such glasses need energy and develop heat. We still have to solve all these problems. We are currently working on this.
WORLD: So no physical interventions?
Bosworth: Our teams have experimented with a computer-brain interface in the past. But it was about controlling a computer with thoughts. We don’t have any projects that involve implants. We don’t build cyborgs.