Facebook takes on Virtual Reality


When Facebook purchased the virtual reality startup Oculus last year, no one was really sure why. Did Zuckerberg have something revolutionary up his sleeve, or was it a splurge, a $2 billion impulse buy after a midnight screening of the Lawnmower Man? Or both? We may now have some answers.

Facebook’s annual F8 developer’s conference in San Francisco showcases the latest and greatest ideas the social media giant has to offer (Is this what we have to thank for the stubbornly persistent "poke" button?) and this year was no different. The company rolled out some doozies, not least of which are its plans for virtual reality.

According to the company’s chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook plans to help connect people even more than it already does, by using VR to let people more accurately share the moments they’re experiencing.

Think of it like a video. Millions are already shared across social media, the idea being that by watching our cousin’s trip to Jamaica or our college roommate’s grumpy cat, we can, in some sense, become a part it. In many ways, Facebook has always been a kind of virtual reality.

Using Oculus, Facebook plans to augment these shared experiences even more. By implementing VR, the company hopes to have the "ability to bring everyone in these moments in one point in time and have this true sense of being there," Schroepfer said.

"The shift to virtual reality is going to bring huge change both to us as developers and society as a whole," Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash said during the conference.

All of this is a long-term plan, at the very least 10 years away, and that’s by Facebook’s own optimistic timeline. Don’t expect to wake up one morning and find your grandmother popping out of her profile picture.

Still, once the technology does become fully realized, it could have profound applications.

"VR is about experiencing the virtual world as real," Abrash said Thursday. "And what we've just learned is that an experience is real to the extent it convinces your perception system in your brain."

Depending on your viewpoint, that’s either really creepy or really cool. The idea that a corporation could manipulate your brain into believing alternate versions of reality is simultaneously astounding and terrifying.

We think therefore we are, and for some of us, no amount of virtual Facebook likes is going to convince us to accept that 50 millionth Farmville request we just got.

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