Mark Zuckerberg at Oculus Connect 6 sharing the next chapter of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) with developers and creators
When you think about Facebook, what comes to mind first? Do you remember seeing a memory in your News Feed that made you smile? Or finding inspiration for a craft or hobby on Instagram? Or even experiencing an immersive virtual world for the first time with an Oculus headset?
From the first lines of code Mark Zuckerberg wrote in 2004 to the launch of News Feed in 2006 to breaking down the barriers of distance with this year’s launch of Oculus Quest, innovation has been core to what we do at Facebook. Today, billions of people rely on Facebook’s family of innovative apps, services, and products—including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Workplace, Oculus, and Portal—to build and maintain meaningful connections every day. But how will technology help people do this tomorrow?
Facebook’s teams are hard at work answering this question. Using the latest innovations in machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and other groundbreaking technologies, we are constantly improving what we build. We believe innovation is key to unlocking the endless potential in using technology to help people form deeper, more meaningful connections and do more together.
Building ways for everyone, everywhere to connect
Whether we’re helping people connect with loved ones, find info on topics they care about, or grow their businesses, it’s our goal to make sure these opportunities are available to everyone, everywhere.
For example, the WhatsApp team faces the never-ending challenge of making sure the app’s calls and messages work—and work well—regardless of a person’s location or signal strength. “When someone places a call in one part of the world and another person answers somewhere else with a different device and much lower connectivity, the quality should be good on both ends,” explains WhatsApp engineering manager Manpreet S.
“As the quality gets better, our challenge grows. There’s no limit to solving it.”
WhatsApp engineering manager Manpreet S. (upper left) and colleagues
“People who use Facebook come from a variety of backgrounds,” adds Daniel O., an engineering manager on our Machine Learning team. “They speak different languages, come from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds, and are differently-abled,” he explains. Daniel’s team uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help Facebook better connect people, including those who face connection barriers. For example, they’ve helped automate:
transcribing videos and creating captions so people with hearing disabilities can understand them.
translating post text into a language a reader can understand so people who don’t speak the same language can connect.
using object recognition technology to provide photo descriptions and converting text into speech to help people who are visually impaired engage with content.
Machine learning engineering manager Daniel O.
Features like these will only make an impact for people around the world if those people have internet access. “Many of us are simply lucky to have been born in a country where a luxury—like fast internet connection—is available to us everywhere we go,” reminds Amit F., a software engineer in our Tel Aviv office. Amit leads Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi
program, which aims to bring fast, affordable, and reliable Wi-Fi connections to emerging markets and developing countries that remain unconnected.
Building new and immersive experiences
One of our biggest innovative investments has been in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Over the past year, we’ve released or announced several category-defining new technologies and experiences, including:
, our video-calling devices that have an AI-powered Smart Camera that makes you feel like you are in the same room with your friends and family even when you are far apart.
Oculus Quest, which joins our other Oculus
headsets, Go and Rift S, in allowing people to experience what it feels like to defy distance by bringing the magic of VR anywhere.
, our augmented reality platform that empowers a global community of creators to build and share AR experiences using our products to enhance the way we connect with art.
, a new social virtual world coming to Oculus Quest and the Rift platform in 2020.
, which is developing new ways to represent people in virtual and augmented environments—a crucial precursor to making interactions feel as natural and effortless as real-life interactions.
Brain-computer interface research
, which aims to help develop non-invasive, wearable technology that allows people to communicate by simply imagining what they want to say—without ever speaking a word or typing a keystroke.
Facebook Reality Labs Chief Scientist Michael Abrash at Oculus Connect 6.
Building open sources of collaboration
Facebook’s broad reach gives our teams the opportunity to tackle open-ended problems that haven’t been solved before at a scale that hasn’t been attempted before. With our unprecedented work, we’re helping pave the path other companies and organizations use to drive forward.
Facebook’s open source program
helps our teams scale their impact by providing opportunities to share ideas and solutions and collaborate with others outside of Facebook. For example, we’ve shared the design plans for our data centers, which use 100% renewable energy, to help other companies build more sustainable data centers. “The open source program at Facebook has created such an amazing global community,” explains open source engineering manager Yuzhi Z. “We get to collaborate with people at different companies to build and find the best solutions.”
One of Facebook’s efficient data centers, designs of which are open sourced under the Open Compute Project (OCP)
As we continue to find ways to bring new experiences to people, the need to innovate responsibly while protecting people on and off our platforms becomes increasingly important. “We have learned a lot of really hard lessons over the last few years,” says Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer. “And those lessons have fundamentally changed the way we develop and build new technologies. They’ve made us realize the deep responsibility we have to understand not just all the amazing good that can come from new technology, but the bad—the unintended consequences. And we have to take those considerations in mind with every new thing we build.”
Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Michael Shroepfer at F8 2018.
Today, our Machine Learning team uses AI to proactively detect content that violates our policies, which helps reduce harmful content, like fake news and clickbait, on our platforms. Annie L., a research scientist on the Machine Learning team, explains why this is important. “My team’s goal,” she shares, “...is to provide a positive and safe experience for people around the world who come to Facebook to discover content tailored to their interests.”
Responsible innovation is also a focus at Instagram, where teams help create a safe, kind, and supportive platform by providing safety and privacy tools like offensive comment filters, ways to report online abuse, and more. Engineering manager Kyle B. works on the Instagram Well-Being team
and helped build a new reporting feature for Instagram Live. “If you're watching a Live broadcast and see someone going through a difficult time, such as if they’re talking about hurting themselves, you can report it anonymously,” Kyle explains. “The person will see a pop-up message with options to talk to a help line, reach out to a friend, or get other tips and support.”
AI also powers features like Restrict and Comment Warning to help combat bullying on Instagram. Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, explains, “My top priority as Head of Instagram is the well-being of the people who use our platform every day.”
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri at Facebook’s F8 Developers Conference speaking about Instagram’s anti-bullying efforts (Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Building the future
Perhaps compliance manager Micky K. best sums up our shared perspective on building the future when he says, “Everyone here wants to leave the world better than they found it.” No matter what we’re working on, our teams believe in building technologies that will help bring out the potential of people to do more together.
As we continue to evolve and make progress, we look forward to sharing more stories of innovation directly from the people who drive that innovation. And we look forward to sharing opportunities for others to join our visionary teams, work on groundbreaking new ideas and projects, and build the future—together.
Learn more about how we innovate: