Mark Zuckerberg has spent the last nine months fighting the ropes as his company has made major cuts to its workforce and struggled to gain mainstream appeal with its ambitious plans for virtual reality.
On Thursday, he told Meta employees how he plans to get the company back on track. In an all-party meeting, Zuckerberg offered an explanation for the recent layoffs and laid out for the first time his vision of how Meta's work in artificial intelligence will blend into his plans for a virtual reality he calls the metaverse.
Mr Zuckerberg's talk is an attempt to rally staff after the most tumultuous period in his company's 18-year history. The chief executive said he made the “tough decision” about the layoffs with the aim of “building a better tech company” that delivered better products, faster — something he believes Meta did not do well as it swelled to more than 80,000 employees at the top. from the pandemic.
“I want us to use this period to rebuild and grow our culture,” he said, according to two people who attended the meeting and shared remarks with The New York Times.
Zuckerberg delivered his remarks in approximately 15 minutes of speech to thousands of employees at Meta's Menlo Park, California, campus. The talk, which took place in an outdoor pavilion the company calls Hacker Square, was also broadcast live to tens of thousands of employees around the world.
It was one of several major Meta meetings over the last three years, and included presentations from other Meta executives, including Andrew Bosworth, chief technology officer, and Chris Cox, chief product officer.
While Meta has been working aggressively on AI for several years, it has been slower than competitors such as Google and Microsoft to turn that research into consumer products. Zuckerberg on Thursday detailed plans for an artificially intelligent “agent” that helps people across all Meta apps, including WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram.
He said Meta would work to make artificial intelligence models accessible to more people than its enterprise competitors and would, ultimately, fit into his plans for the metaverse.
“Democratizing access aligns with our product vision to enable more AI than a single AI,” Zuckerberg said, according to two people who shared comments with The Times. “Our goal is to build new AI products that support and extend human relationships.”
He envisions an AI assistant helping people “create content to better express yourself and your ideas,” or perhaps an artificially intelligent version of “a coach who advises and cheers” people on when they're feeling down.
AI agents can serve customers in products such as WhatsApp, the globally popular messaging app that Meta is focused on turning into an essential tool for business owners and customer service. And every business can use personalized AI algorithms.
“Different people have different interests, and we need a diverse set of AI to represent all of these different interests,” Zuckerberg told the meeting.
To do that, the company is betting heavily on open source technology, meaning it will share its work on artificial intelligence with researchers who want to build their own algorithms around what Meta has done. Companies have spent billions over the past decade building systems to run AI and attract top researchers to work on some of the world's most difficult computer science questions around AI.
Meta has been criticized for its approach. Researcher and politicians companies outside say exposing AI algorithms to many other people can result in malicious, automated and intelligent systems that accelerate the spread of misinformation. Those sophisticated algorithms, critics say, need to be tightly controlled.
In his speech, Zuckerberg defended the Meta strategy. He said open-source software allows for greater outside oversight of technology because it is visible to millions of technologists. He said working with outside progress would make the Meta platform even better.
Mr Zuckerberg also said he hopes for a world where people can build as many different AI programs as they want, rather than relying on a few provided by two or three big tech companies.
That doesn't mean Meta is backing away from the same metaverse plan, Zuckerberg said. Programs using new generative AI technologies, he said, could eventually help people build new virtual world items and experiences. And he says the company plans to bring its AI assistant to the next version of its smart glasses. (Meta is releasing a pair of smart Ray-Ban glasses in 2021, despite sluggish sales.)
He also swiped Apple's recently announced Vision Pro headset, a $3,500 high-tech pair of glasses that promises to usher in a new era of “spatial computing.”
“I was very curious to see what they would deliver, and it is a good sign for our own development that they have no magic solutions to the laws of physics that we have not yet explored,” he said in his remarks. . Mr. Zuckerberg criticized the high-end materials and cost of the device, noting that Meta had spent years trying to lower the price of its headsets. to future versions which will start at $500.
“Their announcement really shows how our visions and values are different and what was at stake in building this platform,” said Zuckerberg. “Our vision of metaverse and presence is social by nature and about people interacting and feeling closer in amazing new ways. Instead, every demo Apple shows is someone sitting on the couch alone.”