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First Interview in Metaverse: Mark Zuckerberg's Ambitious Project is Finally Taking Shape Meta learnt in a bitter way what users were keen on or not. Going from the cartoon avatar of Mark to this photorealistic version required a lot of new technologies, funding, and the willingness to accept what was not working out.

By Paromita Gupta

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Lex Fridman, AI researcher and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Meta

In October 2022, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was being rebranded as Meta to encompass the bigger goal the tech giant wanted to achieve- bringing the metaverse to life and helping people connect, find communities and grow businesses.

"From now on, we will be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first. That means that over time you won't need a Facebook account to use our other services. As our new brand starts showing up in our products, I hope people around the world come to know the Meta brand and the future we stand for," he shared in the founder's note.

In a demonstration video of over one hour, Zuckerberg spoke about the vision and introduced us to virtual realities and digital avatars. Safe to say, users and critics were not impressed. What was deemed as a virtual world where you could interact and work in a very real-life environment turned out to be an advanced video gaming universe where one could have their avatars be cartoons, humanoids, or humans. The creative (expensive) choices became a laughing stock, and users were just not impressed.

For a good over two years, Meta just did not live up to what they were aiming to sell, in spite of launching Quest, Horizon Worlds, and new initiatives. In fact, Meta reported a Q1 2022 loss of $4.28 billion (with the revenue being much lower for Meta Reality Labs).

But now, it looks like the future of Meta's virtual reality is taking shape, for good reasons.

"Where am I? Where are you, Mark? Where are we?"
"You're in Austin right?"
"No, I mean in this place. We are shrouded by darkness with ultra-realistic faces. It feels like we are in the same room"

In a podcast with Lex Fridman, Zuckerberg talks about making VR technology more accessible, making it customizable in terms of emoting, AI in Metaverse, and the future of humanity. This entire interaction takes place in the Metaverse.

Meta learnt in a bitter way what users were keen on or not. Going from the cartoon avatar of Mark to this photorealistic version required a lot of new technologies, funding, and the willingness to accept what was not working out.

Mark's avatar in 2021 vs now

To create these reality-questioning avatars, Meta used 'codec avatars' developed by its Reality Labs. "For background, we both (Lex and I) did these scans for this research project (codec avatars) and the idea is that instead of our avatars being cartoony, instead of transmitting our video, what it does is we scan ourselves in a lot of different expressions and we've built a computer model for each of our faces, bodies, and the different expressions that we make and collapse that into a codec that then when you have the headset over your head, it sees your face, your expressions and it can basically send an encoded version of what it's supposed to look like over the wire," shares Mark Zuckerberg, Meta, CEO in the podcast.

Meta is developing a project where one can use their phones to do a quick scan to achieve the data required to create such avatars. "Wave it in front of your face for a couple of minutes, make a bunch of expressions, say a few sentences, but overall, have the whole process just be of two-three minutes to produce something of the quality that we have now," Meta CEO shares.

Currently, the technology requires one to dedicate hours to provide the data.

"I am already forgetting, that you are not real," quips the awestruck Fridman.

Paromita Gupta

Features Writer with Entrepreneur India

Covering news and trends in AI and Metaverse segments. An avid book reader running her personal blog on the side. You may reach me at paromita@entrepreneurindia.com. 
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