"In the future, you'll be able to snap your fingers and pull out a photo and make it as big as you want."
"A lot of things that we think about as physical objects today ... will actually just be $1 apps in an AR app store."
"In a decade, video will look like as big of a shift in the way we all share and communicate as mobile has been."
These are just a few of the wide-sweeping proclamations that Mark Zuckerberg made on stage during his keynote at Facebook’s annual F8 conference yesterday, during which he waved to a live-streaming drone and pulled out a comedically oversized, eight-foot-tall carbon fiber engine pod for a Facebook plane built to extend the world’s Internet access.
Today, Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer showed off the company's interactive VR platform for the first time, which included the ability to transport to a famous landmark and shoot a photo of yourself with a virtual selfie stick.
It should all sound like a very bad Carrot Top gag. But more and more, it seems like the most remarkable thing that separates Zuckerberg from his contemporaries is his ability to plant signposts that point to the future, describing his vision for Facebook very clearly—and convincing an entire tech industry to get in line and help build the road that leads to it.
At F8, those signposts were about the future of virtual reality, augmented reality, and video streaming. Facebook announced that any camera will soon be able to stream to Facebook Live—including drones. And it even created a $30,000 open source 360-degree camera that anyone can build to share immersive, VR-ready video. What could you do with such a thing? Facebook showed that, too—how about create a virtual environment at a famous landmark, where you could visit, shoot selfies, and share those images in your Facebook feed?
And this is all on top of Facebook's updated, chatbot-controlled Facebook Messenger.
Zuckerberg has talked in grandiose terms before, of course, but maybe it’s time that we all start taking him seriously when he does it. His earlier ramblings, which included the idea that within 10 years Facebook would become what’s been described as a "metaverse," or a second world constructed in virtual reality and augmented reality, may have seemed crazy just a year ago. But take a quick look at Zuckerberg’s recent track record: He’s figured out how social networks can actually make money (while Twitter still can’t). He’s taken over news by deciding that Facebook could be the world’s largest publisher. And all of the very real, virtual reality headsets that just started shipping to the public? Zuckerberg’s $2 billion investment in Oculus—in an objectively out-there vision for the future—singlehandedly drove the whole tech industry to invest in this space.
Not a lot of other companies call their home runs before they swing. Apple develops its designs in total stealth mode, to be unveiled, hopefully, at the perfect time to change the world by being ahead of the pack (see the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad). Microsoft calls some of its shots, but it fails too often to take seriously. Will Hololens be a hit? It looks incredible, but then again, when is the last time Microsoft succeeded at breaking entirely new ground? When it tried to launch tablets in the early aughts, it failed. The Microsoft Surface is gaining traction, but it stands on the shoulders of the iPad.
And then there’s Google. Don’t get me started on Google. It just bets on everything, and in doing so, it sort of bets on nothing. The company will back out of a new piece of hardware or software overnight (see: Google Reader, Google Talk, and Picasa). If I had to compare Zuckerberg and Facebook to any person or company, it might be Elon Musk—the only other guy who can show us something like the Hyperloop and get at least half of Silicon Valley’s investors to join in a slow clap for the idea. The main difference is that I imagine Zuckerberg spent more of his youth watching Lawnmower Man and The Matrix than reading Cold War-era Soviet rocket manuals.
Zuckerberg may fail. He certainly has before. Maybe virtual reality won’t take off in five to 10 years, and no one will share video on Facebook because all the young people are using the great great grandchild of Snapchat. Maybe his vision of the future isn't the one we’ll actually want when we get there.
But when I read about virtual selfie sticks and drones live-streaming video to Facebook, all I can think is, "Sure, Zuck, if you say so, man!" Zuckerberg’s big talk and bullish investments already have me stumbling around my dining room with a smartphone strapped to my head. He might actually pull this whole thing off.
Cover Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images