Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked up the possibilities with Virtual Reality (VR) and 5G at MWC last night – whilst also urging network operators to help him get everyone on the planet connected to the Internet.
Interviewed by Wired’s Jessi Hempel during the conference keynote on Monday night, Zuckerberg spoke at length on the need to connect the unconnected, the future of 5G, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and his efforts in building ‘Jarvis’ – his own, personal Artificial Intelligence machine.
Speaking first about Internet.org – Facebook’s campaign to bring Internet connectivity to everyone on earth – Zuckerberg touched on everything from issues of offering Free Basics in India, to testing solar-powered drones for beaming down internet connectivity in remote parts of the world.
“We believe everyone in the world should have access to internet. It’s kind of crazy that in 2016 4 billion people don’t have access to the Internet. This is not something any one company or corporate can do on their own.”
Ubiquitous connectivity through drones
Zuckerberg continually pushed for network operators to help him during the keynote, much like he did during last year’s keynote, and this led some to be critical of the Facebook boss. One VC told Internet of Business that it was idealistic view, not least considering how Facebook’s significant traffic already requires extensive network support from telco operators.
Nonetheless, Zuckerberg said that Free Basics, despite shutdown in India, has been rolled out in 38 countries, helped 19 million get on the Internet.
That is just one part of the program to get everyone connected though, and Zuckerberg also revealed that Facebook is building a second version of its Aquila drone. This one has the “wing span of a 747 but weighs about as much as a car, so it’s very light.”
“The idea is that it has solar panels on the wings so it can fly for about three to six months at a time.”
In addition, he revealed that Facebook is building a laser communications system for faster and wide-area Internet connectivity.
5G and VR
Zuckerberg, who also later applauded Apple CEO Tim Cook for his stance on encryption, was considerably more guarded on the future of 5G, suggesting that ubiquitous worldwide connectivity is more important than “doubling down on faster connections for rich people.”
That said, he added that 5G must focus on bandwidth for better speed and lower latency, and revealed the launch of Telecom Infra Project, a new initiative designed to overhaul telecom network infrastructure in order to meet the world’s data needs ahead of the roll out of 5G.
The social network is working with mobile providers and operators including Nokia, Intel and Deutsche Telekom so that such networks can handle data-intensive operations, such as watching video and virtual reality.
And it’s fair to say that VR has a big future, with Zuckerberg suggesting it could be the “killer app” for 5G networks.
“This is something I’ve been interested in a really long time,” he said, recalling how he used to scribble code on sketch pads when in class in middle school, imagining how the Internet would look in the next twenty years.
VR, he says, is a way of expressing things that consumers care about, moving on from the ages of text and photos on social media. Mobile networks are now fast enough to cope with high-quality video, including the new trend for 360 degree videos.
“I definitely think over next few years’ video is going to be a huge thing,” he continued, saying that he hopes to capture the first steps of his video this way to share with his family. “I think that’s going to be pretty profound.”
More than one million people watch 360 videos on Facebook every day, and “that’s just one part of the content ecosystem for virtual reality,” according to Zuckerberg.
The Facebook chief believes that 5G will enable Virtual Reality, but suggests that this will push networks even harder, especially as a positive viewing experience could require a 4K resolution for each eye (meaning super hi-res 8K for both).
“I hope it’s the killer apps of 5G network,” he said of VR, before noting that such capacity will require a “pretty meaningful upgrade in the network.”
The Facebook CEO also tackled the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is turning into something of personal hobby. He’s been building ‘Jarvis’ for home automation, but believes the potential of the technology is almost limitless.
AI, he says, continues to get a “funny reaction” but could be used to detect skin cancer or save lives in driverless cars. Yet he said most of Ai today is simply image-recognition, and there’s still some learning to come.
“This stuff is awesome but all just pattern recognition. I think we can push that very far. We are nowhere near understanding how AI works.”