Why Facebook Views AR as its Next Big Platform
Smartphones are great, but they are not the future of communication. Big technology companies know this.
That’s why, with the help of the company that makes Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses, Facebook (FB) wants to put artificial intelligence computers on your face, according to a CNBC report Tuesday.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer, has a well-documented affection for platforms of the future …
When he announced the surprise $19 billion purchase of Oculus VR in 2014, he promised the company was getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. He then opined Oculus had a chance to change the way we work, play and communicate.
Five years later, VR is still far from mainstream. Despite the promise, there has been no discernible clamoring for face-mounted computers.
Two years ago, Facebook broadened it research to include augmented reality. Its Reality Labs opened a campus in Redmond, Wash., and quickly began attracting world-class researchers, developers and engineers. They went right to work on pushing the limits of computer vision, perception science, eye/hand/face/body tracking, and even brain-computer interfaces.
The big idea was to merge the physical and digital worlds with next-generation wearable AI devices.
The timing is right …
- We are living in an age of powerful yet inexpensive cloud computing.
- And the rollout of 5G wireless networks will greatly subdue latency.
- Add optical, audio, GPS and other sensors commoditized by smartphone mass production, and you have all the ingredients for a new computing device that is contextually aware, always connected and constantly learning with AI.
AI is the branch of computer science that teaches computers to learn like humans by recognizing and understanding patterns. It’s also the biggest story in tech today.
Since 2010, there have been 635 AI acquisitions, according to a report from CB Insights. Through August, some 140 buyouts have occurred in 2019, led by Apple (AAPL), Google, Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook and Amazon.
Realistically, Facebook’s immediate ambitions lie somewhere between what Google and Amazon.com (AMZN) are doing with AI digital assistants; and Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a 3,000-electrode brain implant that will ultimately merge humans and AI.
All these projects are seeking a platform that allows people and computers to interact at a level far beyond taps and swipes on a high-definition touchscreen.
It’s clear Google and Amazon are betting big on voice. Google Assistant and Alexa have become massive platforms in their own right. Today third-party developers are racing to add the digital assistants to cars, TV sets, doorbells and security cameras.
The future of computing, from the perspective of Google and Amazon, begins with a personalized AI assistant that lives in the cloud. That assistant has access to all your personal data and will be in a state of constant refinement.
It’s the future promised in the 2013 film, “Her.” The Spike Jonze dark romantic comedy is the story of a man and his love affair with his AI digital assistant. It is a strange concept but it’s not too far from the realm of possibility given how freely we surrender personal data, and the quickening pace of AI development.
The Facebook AR glasses are codenamed Orion. They would allow wearers to send and receive calls and messages; stream video to their social media feeds from their vantage; and view information on a small screen. User inputs would be controlled by barking commands to an AI digital assistant.
All of this is eerily similar to a rumored Apple AR device. The iPhone maker has been gobbling up AI and AR companies for two years. The latest deal in August was for Akonia Holographics, a Colorado company makes special lenses for AR glasses.
Related post: Apple’s 5G AR will take you to a whole new world
Earlier in March, CNBC reported that Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst with a strong track record predicting future Apple products, said his supply chain checks indicate the company will begin production of AR glasses before the end of 2019.
For investors, the die has been cast …
AR is going to be a large investment theme going forward. The idea of people wearing computers on their face is no longer a joke.
Facebook and Apple shares trade at 19.8x and 17.3x forward earnings, respectively. Given the historic growth rates, and the AR opportunity ahead, both are worthwhile investments to consider.
Jon D. Markman