Here’s what’s going to happen in the next 10 years: the world around you is going to look completely different. Literally. Your overpriced TV set will be a ₹60 app floating in your field of vision. Your photos and videos will be living, breathing entities hovering in thin air in front of you. Your friends around the world will be in the same room as you, shooting the breeze over yet another round of virtual poker. This is Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for how your world will look like in the future, and it’s what he’s betting his business on.
At Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco, Zuckerberg laid out a roadmap for the company’s next decade, and claimed that virtual reality (where you’re completely immersed in another world) and augmented reality (where digital elements are superimposed on the world around you) is our future. If you’re worried about walking around with a shoebox-sized helmet strapped to your head — which is what the VR headsets of today like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR look like — don’t worry. Ten years later, your VR headset will look no different from your reading glasses today, claimed Zuckerberg.
It’s not hard to see what will happen once we get to that point. You’ll slam on your VR glasses the first thing when you wake up in the morning, just like you grab your smartphone right now. And your phone…would it even exist? Who needs a chunky slab of glass and metal if you’ve got everything you need right around you? Facebook is the most-used app on smartphones today, and the day we ditch smartphones for VR, it sure as heck doesn’t want to be left behind.
Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014 — a move that seems prescient in hindsight. In March, it began shipping a developer version of the Oculus Rift to early-adopters. But Zuckerberg is not the only CEO who is banking on a VR future for all of us. The world’s biggest technology companies are on the same track. Microsoft began to ship early versions of its Hololens AR headset to developers at the same time as the Oculus; and Google has been practically giving away its Cardboard headsets for a couple of years (the sets are made of, well, cardboard and a bunch of lenses. You slide your smartphone in and fire up a VR app to leave reality behind).
Facebook is positioning virtual and augmented realities as natural extensions of your current Facebook experience. “We want anyone to be able to share anything with each other,” said Zuckerberg at the F8 keynote. “And we want to find better and richer ways of sharing with one another.”
One of those richer ways is being able to capture and share all 360 degrees of an experience, like Zuckerberg recently did with his toddler, Max. “When Max takes her first step, we’ll be able to capture that whole scene, not just write down the date or take a photo or take a little 2D video,” he said as he showed off the video to a jam-packed auditorium. “The people we want to share this with…can go there. They can experience that moment.”
How would you capture this 360-degree slice of heaven? Facebook built a professional-grade camera that captures every inch of visible space using 17 stereoscopic lenses in glorious 8K 3D at 60 frames a second. The asking price is $30,000, but don’t bother asking, because Facebook is giving away both its hardware schematics and the complex software for free to anyone who wants to mine them and come up with ideas to build their own.
This seeming act of largesse is what will make Mark Zuckerberg rule our virtual reality world. As more and more people figure out how to use Facebook’s goldmine of open-sourced VR information to build cheaper VR cameras, virtual reality content on the internet will go mainstream — and more of it will start showing up in your Facebook newsfeed. You will get comfortable with it. And, eventually, you will get comfortable with idea of your Facebook experience itself adapting to virtual reality.
Zuckerberg is already changing Facebook into a platform where you not only stay connected to friends and family but also get your news, order flowers, buy tickets, book hotel rooms, call an Uber, send cash, and stream live video. The companies that offer these services turn the gears of your life today and can already hook into Facebook. When you live in virtual reality, they will be even more crucial. They will need to be seamless.
You already live in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. And ten years later, he will live in yours.
Executive Editor Pranav Dixit previously wrote about the impact of Bengaluru’s traffic troubles on the incomes and health of the city’s taxi drivers. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org