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Zuckerberg: Escape from the real world into my goofy make-believe science-fiction fantasy

Facebook boss reckons he'll heal society's ills with pix

By Thomas Claburn, 18 Apr 2017

F8 2017 Amid the fallout over the killing of an elderly man broadcast via Facebook on Sunday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared, "Our next focus is building community."

Facebook's approach to this civic construction project involves superimposing graphic effects on real-world images through augmented reality (AR) tools.

Speaking at the F8 2017 developer conference, Zuckerberg acknowledged that his social advertising firm has a lot to do to prevent tragedies like the murder of Robert Godwin Sr in Cleveland, Ohio.

How that might work was not discussed, but Facebook's leader suggested that community bonds – a topic he wrote about in February – could be strengthened through cultural and artistic contributions, in part through AR.

"Augmented reality is going to help us mix the digital and physical in all new ways and that's going to make our physical reality better," Zuckerberg insisted.

Toward that end, Zuckerberg sees the smartphone camera as the gateway drug for AR.

Youtube Video

The Facebook Camera Effects Platform presently consists of two tools, Frame Studio and AR Studio. It allows developers to place graphics over the imagery and video from smartphone cameras.

AR Studio, available in closed beta, includes:

  • Machine learning-powered face tracking, to make masks that respond to facial movements.
  • Sensor data awareness, to track phone movements.
  • Scripting APIs, to control effects through code.

Frame Studio provides a way to create and superimpose graphical frames on Facebook camera images. It's similar to the static filters used in a variety of social apps to enhance photos.

But AR graphics are dynamic. They can adapt to underlying scene changes, as happens with Facebook Live video. For example, a developer could use AR Studio to create a halo that maintains its position over a person's head during a video recording session.

"This opens up a whole set of new possibilities for developers and makes Facebook Live broadcasts even more engaging by connecting creative effects to interactions between broadcasters and viewers," the company said in a blog post.

Just imagine how this might be used to enhance future Facebook vid deaths.

Zuckerberg addressed contrast between real-world tragedy and fake-world frivolity by attempting to frame eye candy tools as a way to encourage people to connect.

"As silly as effects like this might seem, they're actually really important because they give us the ability to share things we might not otherwise share," he said.

Unsaid, but more important for Facebook's business, is that such tools encourage people to work for free, creating content that Facebook can monetize through advertising. Facebook's dependence on free labor may have something to do with Zuckerberg's conviction that, in the future, "more of us will contribute to culture and society."

Don't rock the boat

F8, which began in 2007, marks the fourth consecutive year of developer conferences held by the company, following a commitment in 2014 to rock the boat a bit less.

That was when Zuckerberg replaced Facebook's "move fast and break things" mantra with a commitment to stable infrastructure, because developers don't enjoy rewriting their apps every few months to accommodate platform changes.

The biz's decision to behave more predictably followed a two-year hiatus in 2012 and 2013 when Zuck's braintrust rethought its commitment to web-based gaming companies – specifically Zynga – and shifted its focus toward mobile applications.

Beyond its AR push, Facebook provided developers with a handful of other more or less welcome announcements.

  • The social network enhanced Facebook Analytics to include support for Pages interactions and offline interactions.
  • It also introduced Messenger Platform 2.0, which adds a Discover tool to help users find popular bots to chat with, nearby places that accept Messenger messages, and businesses capable of responding to queries via Messenger. The 2.0 release includes Chat extensions, which make one-to-one conversations with bots sharable and potentially group-oriented, among other new capabilities.
  • Facebook Spaces, a VR meeting area for friends, debuted as beta software for the Oculus Rift. Along related lines, the company launched Developer Circles, a program to encourage people to volunteer their time – because why pay when you don't have to – to support local Facebook-oriented developer groups around the real world.

Finally, Facebook's identity tools – Login and Account Kit – and gaming technology received some new capabilities. Facebook also open-sourced Caffe2, its cross-platform machine learning toolbox.

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg promised an update on "direct brain interfaces that will eventually one day let you communicate using only your mind." ®

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