Mark Zuckerberg's Utopian/Dystopian Vision of the Future as a Shared Virtual Reality

Thursday, 02 July 2015 - 12:38PM
Artificial Intelligence
Science News
Dystopias
Thursday, 02 July 2015 - 12:38PM
Mark Zuckerberg's Utopian/Dystopian Vision of the Future as a Shared Virtual Reality
Mark Zuckerberg has shared his vision for the future, and it sounds suspiciously like the plot of Dave Eggers's dystopian novel, The Circle. It's essentially a future in which the entire world has become a real-life Facebook, where social media technology has become a bodily appendage and everyone can share absolutely everything with each other all the time. This could be utopian or dystopian depending on your perspective, I suppose, but it's certainly what you'd expect from the CEO of Facebook.

At his latest "townhall Q&A" session, Zuckerberg claimed that, in the future, people will not only be able to share thoughts with each other via technological telepathy, but will be able to share experiences with each other. And not just through pictures, as on Facebook, but entirely share experiences as though the other person is standing next to you. 

Opening quote
"One day, I believe we'll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You'll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too if you'd like."
Closing quote


At first blush, this sounds more like a utopian Sense8-esque world, in which we all learn greater empathy for each other and our connections are strengthened. Which might very well be true, but the other side is the lack of privacy and the proscriptive requirement to be "plugged in" all of the time. And it is extremely reminiscent of The Circle, in which a corporation promulgated a worldview that could be boiled down to aphorisms like "secrets are lies," "sharing is caring," and "privacy is theft."

This interpretation became even more salient when Zuckerberg discussed Facebook's joint efforts with virtual reality company Oculus:

Opening quote
"We're working on VR because I think it's the next major computing and communication platform after phones," said Zuckerberg. "In the future we'll probably still carry phones in our pockets, but I think we'll also have glasses on our faces that can help us out throughout the day and give us the ability to share our experiences with those we love in completely immersive and new ways that aren't possible today."
Closing quote


Again, having the ability to literally share experiences is a nice idea would essentially turn the world into a real-life Facebook, with all of the benefits and detriments that entails. Luckily, Zuckerberg made Facebook's efforts with AI sound a little more mundane and altruistic:

"We're working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use. For example, if we had computers that could understand the meaning of the posts in News Feed and show you more things you're interested in, that would be pretty amazing. Similarly, if we could build computers that could understand what's in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn't see that image, that would be pretty amazing as well. This is all within our reach and I hope we can deliver it in the next 10 years."

There's no doubt that AI could have many altruistic applications, and helping the blind is a perfect and worthy example of how it could help people. But then Zuckerberg kept talking, and he made even these efforts sound a little ominous and singularity-ish:

Opening quote
"Most of our AI research is focused on understanding the meaning of what people share. In order to do this really well, our goal is to build AI systems that are better than humans at our primary senses: vision, listening, etc."
Closing quote


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Mark Zuckerberg's Vision of the Future: Shared Virtual Reality

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