Innovation

Virtual reality: How it factors into Facebook's 10-year plan

Facebook focuses on big picture, reveals few details on the future of virtual reality at the F8 developer conference. Here's what you need to know about their vision.

Oculus' chief scientist Michael Abrash.
Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

The day two keynote at Facebook's F8 developer conference focused largely on virtual reality, yet instead of announcing any news regarding hardware or software, speakers took the time to make a massive pitch for a yet-to-be determined future where VR "changes almost everything about the way we live," said Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash.

The address, "Why Virtual Reality Will Matter to You," was the second portion of the keynote at Facebook's F8 developer conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, March 26.

In the beginning portion of the keynote, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer provided some — not much — context for the role immersion will play in Facebook's plan in the next ten years.

Immersion was the third leg in the plan which includes spreading connectivity across the planet, natural interfaces, and immersion — immersion being virtual reality experiences.

He worked off the idea of sharing experiences and bringing people in on "moments" with a real sense of presence. He talked about reaching the minimum bar in terms of the developing VR technology — they're "on the cusp" and hope to reach there in the next year, though it wasn't totally clear where "there" is.

See: Zuckerberg at F8: Messenger Business will change customer service and how we interact with businesses

For the second half of the keynote, Schroepfer introduced Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Oculus.

There were no announcements, but rather a heavy push to set the stage for VR in the future.

Abrash essentially credited Facebook's purchase of Oculus with bringing back VR from a place where it was "dead and buried."

He cited science fiction novels like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, as well as the Matrix with influencing how he developed his conceptual framework for what VR could be. This included a lot of quoting the Matrix about what reality is — electrical signals, according to character Morpheus.

In offering the idea that reality is basically whatever and however the human brain processes its world, he ran through a series of optical illusions.

But party tricks aside, Abrash laid out the current state of VR as Facebook sees it.

VR is just "barely good enough," he said. Areas of needed improvement include: haptics, visuals, audio, and tracking.

His reasoning for thinking that VR will finally hit its stride after decades of almosts are these:

  • The technology is already far enough along on the consumer end, and shipping soon
  • There's broad industry participation from big players like Samsung and HTC
  • There's long-term commitment stemming from the relationship between Facebook and Oculus
  • The inevitable march of technology

Still, the remaining questions are manifold, Abrash said, including how people will end up interacting with each other through VR.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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