Mark Zuckerberg has been on the fence for the past nine months as his company slashed staff and struggled to gain mainstream attention with its ambitious virtual reality initiative.
On Thursday, he told Meta employees how he plans to get the company back on track. In an all-hands meeting, Mr. Zuckerberg explained the recent layoffs and for the first time laid out his vision for how Meta’s work on artificial intelligence will merge with its virtual reality initiative called the Metaverse.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s speech was meant to rally employees after the most tumultuous period in the company’s 19-year history. The CEO said he made “difficult decisions” about layoffs, with the goal of “building a better tech company” that delivers better products, faster — something he thinks Meta is doing well. Not well, as it swelled to more than 80,000 employees at the peak of the pandemic.
“I hope we use this period of what will be more stability to develop and rebuild our culture,” according to two people who attended the meeting and shared the speech and recordings with The New York Times.
Mr. Zuckerberg spoke for about half an hour to thousands of employees at Meta’s Menlo Park, California, campus. The presentation took place at the company’s outdoor pavilion, called Hacker Square, and was also broadcast live to tens of thousands of employees around the world.
It was one of the few large in-person meetings Meta has held over the past three years, with presentations from other Meta executives such as CTO Andrew Bosworth and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox.
In his speech, Mr. Cox detailed Meta’s plans to improve Reels, a short-form Instagram product, to better counter TikTok, one of Meta’s strongest competitors.
executives also talked about 92 plan, a long-rumored social app in the works at Meta that will function similarly to Twitter. The app will work with other apps like Mastodon and Bluesky, executives said.
While Meta has been actively working on AI research for years, it has been slower than competitors like Google and Microsoft to translate that research into consumer products. Mr Zuckerberg on Thursday detailed plans for artificial intelligence assistants that could help people use all of Meta’s apps, including WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.
He said Meta will work on creating AI models that are accessible to more people than his company’s competitors and that ultimately fit his Metaverse plans.
“There’s a lot of value in democratizing that access,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke to The New York Times. Rather than just trying to integrate ourselves into a single AI trying to rule everything.”
He envisions AI assistants helping people “create content to better express yourself and your ideas,” or perhaps some sort of AI version of “a coach who gives you advice and encourages you.”
AI agents can serve customers in products like WhatsApp, the world’s popular messaging app, which Meta has focused on turning into an essential tool for business owners and customer service. Every business can use personalized artificial intelligence algorithms.
“Different people have different interests, and we need a variety of AI to represent all of these different interests,” Mr. Zuckerberg said at the meeting.
To that end, the company has invested heavily in open-source technology, which means it will share its work on artificial intelligence with researchers who want to build their own algorithms using what Meta has already done.The company has spent billions of dollars over the past decade building systems that run AI and attracting top researchers to work on some of the world’s hardest computer science problems around AI
Meta has been criticized for its approach.Researchers and politicians Opening up AI algorithms to many others could lead to malicious, automated and intelligent systems, accelerating the spread of misinformation, people outside the company said. Those complex algorithms need to be tightly controlled, critics say.
In his speech, Mr. Zuckerberg defended Meta’s strategy. Open source software allows for greater scrutiny of the technology because it can be seen by millions of technologists, he said. Working closely with outside advances will make Meta’s platform even better, he said.
Mr. Zuckerberg also said he wanted a world where people could build as many different AI programs as they wanted, rather than relying on a handful of programs from two or three big tech companies.
That doesn’t mean Meta is abandoning its eponymous metaverse project, Mr Zuckerberg said. Programs using new generative artificial intelligence techniques could eventually help people build new virtual world projects and experiences, he said. He hinted that the company might bring its AI assistant into future versions of its smart glasses. (Meta released a smart Ray-Ban in 2021, but sales have been lackluster.)
He also took a stab at Apple’s recently released Vision Pro headset, a $3,500 high-tech goggle that promises to usher in a new era of “spatial computing.”
“I’m really curious to see what they’ll ship, which bodes well for our own development, as they don’t have any magic solutions to the laws of physics that we haven’t explored yet,” he said in a comment. Zach Mr. Berg criticized the high-end materials and cost of the device, while noting that Meta has been reducing the price of its headsets over the years. to an upcoming version starting at $500.
“Their announcement really shows how different our vision and values are and what’s at stake in shaping this platform,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “Our vision of the metaverse and existence is fundamentally social, about people interacting and feeling more connected in new and amazing ways. In contrast, every demo Apple showed was a person sitting alone on a couch superior.”