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The Missouri Miner

Missouri S&T's Student Newspaper
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EST. 1915

Facebook announces new projects at F8 conference

Updated: Oct 5, 2018

Facebook has been holding an erratically annual developer's conference since 2007. This conference is called F8 and is where they announce projects that are not ready to be released, discuss plans for the future of their existing platforms, and this year, make far too many jokes about “The F8 of the Furious.” The main focus of the conference this year was on AR and VR applications in the social sphere. There was also a heavy emphasis on new features being implemented in Facebook Messenger and crowdsourcing development on several of their platforms by open sourcing them. In order to show that there is still technology being developed outside of social software, they also revealed some more engineering-centric projects. This year’s F8 conference has revealed several thoughts and plans that Facebook has for the future of interpersonal relationships.

One criticism that Facebook faces is that it is copying Snapchat instead of creating anything new or innovative. For much of the conference, it seemed that rather than trying to refute these criticisms, Facebook was going to embrace them entirely. They announced an AR camera effects platform for developers around the world to create AR filters to be used by selfie enthusiasts around the world. To further solidify their stance on Snapchat, they also announced a platform called Frame Studio to allow local artists to create 2D “frames” that users can add to photos taken with Facebook’s camera app. Other expressed intentions for the AR platform fall into three categories: displaying information, placing digital objects, and enhancing everyday experiences. For now, these experiences are going to be limited to the Pokemon Go like experience of holding your phone camera up and seeing the content on your screen, but Mark Zuckerberg envisions a future where everyone has AR capable glasses or contact lenses and a VR headset.

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, a manufacturer of VR headsets begins to make sense in the context of this vision for the future. In an effort to be the company that brings VR into the mainstream, Facebook has announced a new platform called Spaces that allows people in different locations to gather in a virtual space using avatars created from their Facebook pictures. While in this Space they can talk, draw 3D objects, and watch 360 degree videos with the other people in the virtual room. Friends who do not have an Oculus Rift can still video chat with the room from their phone, broadening the user base slightly. The success of this platform is heavily dependent on the adoption of VR, which is still very expensive. It may be several years before applications like this hit the mainstream.

In the near future, Facebook Messenger will be receiving the most major changes. Significant effort has been put into building a selection of chat bots that are connected to different apps and services and can be added to group chats to make planning and collaborating easier and more efficient. They can also provide real time news or sports updates to the group, or allow members to directly share Spotify playlists. Eventually, there will be an entire ecosystem of bots and a discovery tool to make finding relevant bots easier. Bots will not only be useful in group chats, but also for businesses. Bots will be able to learn answers to commonly asked questions and answer automatically when a business receives the same question again. Facebook’s Workplace collaboration tool has also announced support for bots, in an effort to bring it up to par with other similar tools like Slack, while also bringing their products into a more professional setting.

All of these projects represent a significant amount of code and maintaining, and innovating upon it requires a lot of work. Facebook has figured out that if they open source their frameworks, they can get free development time, while also making the development community happy because that is a huge amount of code that the individual programmer does not have to worry about. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, open-source development basically means that instead of keeping the actual code secret behind closed doors, the original creators host it on a service like Github, where anyone can download, use, improve, or bug fix it. Facebook has open-sourced several pieces of its software, including the React platform for creating user interfaces in JavaScript. In fact, the React platform is getting vr support and a complete rewrite, the Litho framework for making UI for Android apps, and the Caffe2 framework for developing artificial intelligence. For anyone who is planning on developing in these areas, this news could be very welcome.

For those more interested in hardware, there were two projects revealed that go more in that direction. The first is a technology that aims to allow the user to “hear” through their skin. Applications for this technology will be more clear once its effectiveness is revealed, but it is certainly something new. The second project is an interface to replace the keyboard with your brain. This thought-to-text interface would fit nicely into Zuckerberg’s AR/VR rich future by removing the need for clunky input peripherals. This project is still very new, but it has already gained collaboration and support from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

For a two day conference, a lot was covered at this year’s F8. After Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto earlier this year it seemed that the company might have been struggling to find a new direction, but if volume of announcements is any metric, it seems that these fears were unfounded. Depending on how these new technologies are implemented, the future of social media could be full of fun or frighteningly disconnected from reality.


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