The metaverse is now a “long term project,” giving the billionaire an excuse whenever he’s asked about Meta’s former next big thing.
He never admits that he was wrong, insisting, even in the face of the evidence, that he was right or that history will eventually prove him right.
Mark Zuckerberg masters the art of dialectics.
When it comes to the metaverse, which he presented as the next big thing for his social media empire in October 2021 when he renamed it Meta Platforms, this dialectic becomes sophistry.
The tech tycoon has just made a spectacular demonstration of it in an attempt to convince the world — or to convince himself — that the metaverse, a virtual world in which we are called upon to interact using avatars and tools tech like virtual reality headsets, remains a priority, despite the fact that the events of the last few weeks clearly show that this is now a project like any other.
‘That’s Not Accurate’
“A narrative has developed that we’re somehow moving away from focusing on the metaverse vision, so I just want to say upfront that that’s not accurate,” the billionaire told investors and analysts during Meta’s first quarter earnings’ call on April 26. “We’ve been focusing on both AI and the metaverse for years now, and we will continue to focus on both.”
TheStreet on March 18 wrote that the metaverse was dead, and that Zuckerberg had buried it quietly, because he was now focusing on the new shiny thing, namely artificial intelligence, or AI, considered a revolutionary technology.
This must be what Zuckerberg calls inaccurate narrative. What is interesting is that his remarks to investors and analysts on April 26, which are three pages long, were mostly devoted on AI. When the chief executive speaks of the metaverse, he now integrates the concept into an overall vision of AI. Basically, the metaverse becomes a small subset of AI.
“The two areas are also related,” the 38-year old executive argued. “Breakthroughs in computer vision were what enabled us to ship the first standalone VR [virtual reality] device. Mixed reality is built on a stack of AI technologies for understanding the physical world and blending it with digital objects.”
Aware that the argument is not too convincing, he insisted.
“Our vision for AR [augmented reality] glasses involves an AI-centric operating system that we think will be the basis for the next generation of computing,” Zuckerberg said. “Metaverse technologies will also help to deliver AI as well. For example, embodying AI agents will take advantage of the deep investment we’ve made in avatars over the last several years.”
An Interesting Admission
The chief executive officer, whom Tesla (TSLA) – Get Free Report CEO Elon Musk dubbed “Zuck the Fourteenth” in an apparent nod to French King Louis the XIV, famous for his hubris and excess, ended up making an interesting admission.
“Building the metaverse is a long term project,” Zuckerberg said. “But the rationale for it remains the same and we remain committed to it.”
He made no commitments related to investments.
The most important thing to remember is the use of “long term project,” which clearly looks like a way to save face and avoid saying that he was wrong. Zuckerberg now has an excuse whenever he’s asked what Meta’s ambitions are about the metaverse. He will say: “We told you this is a long term project. We’re working on it and we will make announcements in due course.”
It’s smart. It saves him embarrassing and humiliating headlines.
For those in doubt, they can listen to Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm and excitement when he talks about AI. He beams, aware that he is holding gold.
“Our AI work is also improving monetization,” the tycoon told investors and analysts. “Reels monetization efficiency is up over 30% on Instagram and over 40% on Facebook quarter-over-quarter. Daily revenue from Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns is up 7x in the last six months.”
Another Huge Loss
He added: “I think there’s an opportunity to introduce AI agents to billions of people in ways that will be useful and meaningful. We’re exploring chat experiences in WhatsApp and Messenger, visual creation tools for posts in Facebook and Instagram and ads, and over time video and multi-modal experiences as well.”
Who could blame him for his enthusiasm for AI, in light of the results of the metaverse? In the first quarter, Reality Labs, the division housing metaverse projects, recorded an operating loss of almost $4 billion. In 2021 and 2022, the metaverse posted a cumulative loss of nearly $24 billion, including $13.7 billion last year alone.
Zuckerberg may not want to acknowledge it publicly, but the facts and figures tell a very clear story: the metaverse is no longer the next big thing for Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. AI has indeed taken its place.
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This story was originally published April 30, 2023, 11:52 AM.
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