With Meta recently laying off 13 percent of its staff, some are attributing part of its cost cutting to Mark Zuckerberg’s overly enthusiastic investment in the metaverse. An investment that has yet to pay off.
But while tech pundits bet on or against Meta’s fortunes, the company continues to develop its virtual reality tech - both in the form of virtual worlds and VR headsets.
In this episode of The Next Stage, Meta’s head of product Naomi Gleit discusses the company’s VR vision for the future, including a forecast - as she describes it - that it could be ten to 15 years before VR and AR technologies reach their full potential.
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Hi, everybody, and hello Naomi. Thanks for joining us. We are here today to talk mostly about the future. But it might make sense to start with a little history and specifically, your history. Tell us when and how you came to join this company.Naomi Gleit:
So I've been at meta for almost 17 years. I Like You I am interested in the history of technology. I studied science, technology and society at Stanford. When I graduated, I wanted to work at meta Facebook at the time. And I actually interviewed to be Sean Parker's personal assistant and sort of the rest is history.Harry McCracken:
And it worked out rather well. But to fast forward to 2022 What are you working on today?Naomi Gleit:
I am the head of product at means I'm responsible for the product management community at meta. Specifically, I'm focused on building solutions that work across our family of apps, Facebook, Instagram, messenger and WhatsApp and also our New Reality Lab devices.Harry McCracken:
One of the fundamental things about the metaverse is it's still in the process of being invented, which means that everybody can have their own definition and nobody's right or wrong. But can you give us at a high level? What metas definition of the meta versusNaomi Gleit:
Yeah, I like to define the metaverse as the future of the Internet. If we experienced the internet today in two dimensions, when we look at it from our phone or our computer, in the future, I think we'll experience the internet in three dimensions, and be in it accessing it from VR headsets or AR glasses. And, you know, it might be helpful just to back up quickly and define some of these terms. I would say vr Virtual Reality is being fully immersed, or having a sense of presence. In a virtual world. Augmented reality is about adding to your physical world by projecting images or digital objects onto it. And then mixed reality, which is actually demonstrated in our new quest pro device is about blending both the physical and virtual worlds. You know, I think a lot of people think that the metaverse is about gaming. I'm definitely not a huge gamer. I don't know if you are although I do like beat sabre. And one thing that I've been doing a lot in VR is actually just watching movies with my family. My cousin Jonathan actually works at Mehta as well. He works on the quest team, and he's a film producer, and he makes films for virtual reality. And actually last week, we were just watching a nature documentary series called kingdom of plants, which is a nature guided by David Attenborough. I love these kinds of experiences. And it's really cool, because instead of watching it on your TV, you can be in the Royal Botanical Gardens, with David Attenborough as your guide. And he's explaining how to touch a venus flytrap.Harry McCracken:
So metta is making a historic investment of billions of dollars a year in building the metaverse enough that there's some people who say this is too big about this idea. And it's not really a secret that there are some people who don't think the metaverse sounds exciting. They think it sounds grim and dystopian. And in some cases, this part they don't like is specifically the fact that meta is involved. Is there anything you can say to these people to help get them a little bit more interested, or at least think it's a bet worth making?Naomi Gleit:
So I would first say I think there's a common misconception that the metaverse is going to replace being together in person. Nothing is going to replace being together in person. I think if we learned anything from the past few years, it's that sometimes you can't be together. Actually, I was talking about John and watching his movies in VR. My dad and I take a annual trip with John and his dad, who's my uncle. And we weren't able to do that. That's why we ended up watching these movies in virtual reality together, and we could watch David Attenborough or you know, he made another film called the soloist about the rock climber Alex Honnold. These are all experiences that are about making the time you do spend online, even better. The other thing I would say is, this is a big bet. I think it's important that we make big bets and tastes take risks in order to innovate. Here, you know this. You've been covering tech for a really long time, but technology is always evolving. And so we're building for the social tech analogy of today. But we also need to build for the future of that technology, which we believe is the metaverseHarry McCracken:
in some cases. What people don't like I think is the idea that the metaverse will be owned and operated by meta in a similar way that Facebook and Instagram are definitely owned and operated by meta. Is it Meta's goals to own and operate the metaverse.Naomi Gleit:
No meta will not own the metaverse. I think no one company can own the metaverse in the same way that no one company owns the internet. You don't have the apple internet and the Microsoft Internet. And if we think of the metaverse as the future of the internet, there's so many companies to your point investing a lot in building out the metaverse, I think that's really important that it becomes something that's open, that is interoperable. And I think this is happening with or without meta, you and I have talked previously about how the arc of technology is really towards becoming more and more immersive. Actually, remember, I was thinking about this earlier, when we were talking. My first smartphone was actually a BlackBerry Pearl. And all you could do was text on it for the most part. Today, everyone in the audience has a phone in their pocket. And that has replaced your camera, your video camera, your alarm clock, your navigation system. In the future, I think, you know, we hope that everyone has a VR headset or an AR device. And the trend we're really seeing there is towards richer and richer, more immersive experiences.Harry McCracken:
Speaking of headsets, you're just recently released the quest Pro. But you're also spending a lot of money and time on building something that might eventually look kind of like these and have great displays and all day battery life and be so comfortable that nobody is going to dislike the metaverse on the grounds that they feel like they're being suffocated by a headset. I think you've been very clear that has a long journey and requires a lot more invention. But can the metaverse truly exist? Until there is some sort of glasses like device for consuming nactoy? Isn't that entirely dependent on that happening?Naomi Gleit:
So I think, to your point about the glasses, have you tried our Ray Ban glasses, okay, not the quest Pro, but the Ray Ban glasses, it's gonna be a long time before we have smart glasses, the Ray Ban glasses are cool. You can upload photos, you can take phone calls, but we're not seeing the vision of augmented reality for another 10 to 15 years. I think we're already seeing glimpses of the potential of virtual reality today. So I mentioned during COVID I think like many of you guys, I was on a lot of zoom calls. Zoom is two dimensional, I would have preferred to be in the office as a product manager, I'm someone who's always at the whiteboard, always around the table collaborating. On zoom, I see boxes of faces, the audio I'm hearing is from my computer speaker. And so what we did instead, is work together or meet in work rooms, which is actually really awesome. I think in the future, maybe I can meet you in work rooms, and we can have this conversation. But it feels like we're all sitting around a table. The spatial audio technology is really amazing. If you're sitting to the left of me, I hear your voice coming from the left of me if you're across from over there, I hear the audio coming from there. The ability to understand your face and eye movements, it feels like I'm really looking at you sometimes on Zoom, I'm looking down or at the camera and sideways. And so these are all things that have really improved my experience of working remotely even even today.Harry McCracken:
Currently, we except for VR, we basically consumed the internet on flat screens. I know you are doing some things within VR to to bring flat screens in there. But do you expect flat screens to go away at some point even if it might be 10 or 15 years from now? Or what will they coexist with more immersive experiences?Naomi Gleit:
Yeah, I think it's it's really hard to predict the future. I think if 15 years ago, I had imagined what we'd be doing and having today. I probably would have been wrong. But it's a great question. We have almost 3 billion people using our products every single day. And so I think that will continue even into the future. And so that's why it's really important that we make the metaverse accessible via our current products. So we're doing things like making it possible to access the metaverse from your desktop or your phone without having to have a VR device. And we're also seeing some glimpses of augmented reality. I think face filters on Instagram are basically projecting an image or an object onto your face. And in this case, maybe it's like bunny ears and a bunny knows. But that's the start of what AR could look like in the future.Harry McCracken:
You've spent some of your good on the social good aspect of meta and the positive things that social networking can do. But you've also confronted harassment and misinformation and some of the problems that have come along, and which in a lot of cases, meta and really the entire industry, in some cases has been dealing with these issues as they exist. Looking forward to the metaverse, is it gonna be the same issues we have to confront? Is it gonna be new ones? And is there any chance that meta and other companies might anticipate these issues and get ahead of them in a way that, generally speaking has not happened? So far?Naomi Gleit:
I think getting ahead is really the key process point here. A lot of the conversations that we've had about these issues happened at a time when some of our products were already at scale. And so I think here we have an opportunity to have those conversations around how do we create a safe and secure community? What are the principles around which we design it now 10 to 15 years before these really realise their full potential. One thing you mentioned, I'm on the head of social impact as well, is I'm really excited about the application of VR for education and health care. So it's not just gaming and productivity, there's so many ways that VR can help from a societal impact perspective. There is this story that I was just reading about how UCLA is using VR to help train their medical students. I don't know how many of you guys played operation when you were younger, but it was basically a game where you would perform operations or surgery on a body. And if you made a mistake, it would give you like a little buzz. Do you know what I'm talking about? It makes us old. And much like operation, this is a much richer virtual simulation where med students can actually practice on patients in virtual reality, you have the simulation of an emergency room, their heart rates elevated, they can actually feel the bone and the tissue while they operate. And the initial findings is that this is really helping to train better doctors and perform better surgeries. Another example of a healthcare use case is doctors are wearing AR headsets in order to have X ray vision. So if they're performing a surgery, they'll be able to see a overlay of a CT scan on the body and be able to perform their surgery with that, with that additional, you know, understanding of what's outside and inside the body.Harry McCracken:
Along with building products, Mehta has also done a fair amount of talking about the future and sometimes visualising the future, in videos that show where this might go. How confident are you that it's gonna go in that general direction and that the metaverse will indeed be the next big thing, or at least a next big thing at some point? And is there any chance it won't happen or it'll happen and like in a radically different way you don't anticipate or maybe happens in a way where meta is not anywhere near the centre of where it goes.Naomi Gleit:
I think that when we undertake such exercises, like predicting where we'll be in five to 10 to 15 years, we're gonna get some things wrong. I think I joined Metis 17 years ago. And at that time, the product that I was working on was WW dot the facebook.com, one of my first projects was actually letting high school students on Facebook. And so we definitely couldn't have imagined the social products that we have today. But given the level of investment that we're seeing across the industry, not just from Mehta, but also Apple. Apple is coming out with a headset soon Microsoft bytedance With Pico, there's so much energy and investment in this direction. Obviously, some things are gonna work, some things are not going to work surprises, lack of surprises, but I think that the overall direction is definitely towards more immersive,Harry McCracken:
unexpected, lots of surprises. And hopefully we'll get to continue this conversation as it becomes a little bit more clear where this is all going. But for now, thank you so much for taking the time, Naomi, we really appreciate it.Naomi Gleit:
Thank you, Harry. Thank you guys.