"People will have superpowers"

In no technology does Facebook place greater hope than in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Facebook’s VR chief Andrew Bosworth wants to attract a billion users. The glasses should be able to solve fundamental problems of humanity. There are still a few challenges to overcome along the way.

WORLD: Mr. Bosworth, Facebook puts so much effort and money into virtual and augmented reality. Why?

Andrew Bosworth: Our mission is to connect people. But we see that there is a strong desire to connect even more than before. Previous technologies such as smartphones and browsers have limits that we are slowly pushing against. That’s why we built our portals, which are mainly about video telephony. With virtual reality, we can go much further.

WORLD: What does the user gain from this?

Bosworth: Think of commuters and the hours they spend in traffic just to be in a room with other people. You could spend a lot more time with your family.

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WORLD: The promise also existed when video conferencing was introduced. But nothing has come 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 great deal further.

WORLD: When will it be?

Bosworth: We’re on our way there. We have a team of researchers who are using machine learning to get very close to this. In the meantime, this is no longer a challenge for researchers, but rather for development engineers.

WORLD: Facebook’s goal is to bring one billion people into virtual reality. How can this be achieved?

Bosworth: If VR is able to solve fundamental problems for people, we will succeed. Currently, we solve 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.

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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. Often it is 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 a 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 augmented reality glasses that you can wear all day. You can then display virtual objects in your environment.

WORLD: What effects do you expect?

Bosworth: We believe that VR and AR 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 boost your eyesight and see from afar if this is your bus you need to run to now.

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WORLD: Superpowers? Are you thinking of implants?

Bosworth: We really think more of glasses. There are still some technical challenges. The displays must be visible 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 intervention?

Bosworth: Share 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.

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