Mark Zuckerberg was the latest speaker on the Lex Friedman podcast. This was a much-anticipated discussion, the publication of which was postponed due to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Lex, being of Russian descent, was gravely affected by the developments.
The podcast began with Lex handing Zuckerberg a printout of a “captcha” screen and asking him to circle all the traffic lights. The joke got a laugh out of Zuckerberg and played along to actually do it.
But jokes aside, the very first question to Mark was none other than the “matrix” of all.
Are we in a metaverse? Is this all memory?
Lex opened the discussion with a philosophical, or rather existential, the question of whether it was possible that we are just experiencing a memory replay inside the metaverse many years in the future?
To which Zuckerberg replied that he couldn’t know, or he’d be some sort of computer construct and not the person who created the Meta company. But went on to state that if it were the case, then,
“That would truly be meta.”
Upon asking if there could be someone using the Mark Zuckerberg avatar in the future. And could be playing the Lex and Mark podcast replay four decades in the future.
To this, Zuckerberg replied that
“..it wouldn’t take four decades to get to photo realistic avatars. We are much closer to that.”
Lex asked how long it will be before we can have the same kind of magic as in-person conversations, in the metaverse.
That, according to Zuckerberg, is the key question. The thing that’s different about virtual compared to other digital platforms, is the experience of presence. That’s different from other screens we have today.
What are the things that make the physical world? Zuckerberg asks. He goes on to answer, on visual presence, and spatial audio, we’re making reasonable progress. Spatial audio is a huge deal. It sometimes feels better than a zoom meeting (referring to the released video of the Meta office meeting). Spatial audio allows participants to lean over to someone next to them and whisper something they wouldn’t want everybody else to hear, making it far superior to current forms of video conferencing.
Compared to the real physical world, there are a lot of other factors to be considered, according to Zuckerberg. For example the temperature of the room and physical touch; although they are working on haptic gloves to recreate the sensation of touch.
The building blocks for the Metaverse should be ready within the next 10 years, according to Zuckerberg.
Identity and security in the Metaverse
Lex also asked Zuckerberg about how identity would work in the Metaverse. Would people be able to be whoever they wanted to be? Zuckerberg answers this by saying that it would depend on the use case of the avatar, depending on whether they are playing a game, or if they are interacting with friends or work colleagues.
One aspect that interests Zuckerberg is;
“How do we build software to allow people to seamlessly go between them?”
The virtual economy will include various aspects of designing one’s identity. Virtual clothing will also play a huge role in this scenario.
In regards to fake identities in the Metaverse, Zuckerberg clarifies that Meta’s AI is working in this regard. He thinks that there could be some form of a biometric identifier to protect impersonification and fake identities.
For the case of security, there are advantages for both centralized and decentralized models. Citing WhatsApp’s example, the encryption of the messages ensures that hackers won’t be able to see the text. The flipside of that is that all the data is on the phone, and losing it would lead to a complete loss of data. While centralized storage would keep the data safe, regardless of the loss of the device.
What makes Meta different?
Zuckerberg clarifies that most other tech companies build things for users to interact with the technology, while Meta focuses on tech to help people better communicate with each other.
A lot of the lessons, in regards to how Zuckerberg approaches product design, come from human psychology. A major part of the human brain, Zuckerberg says, is based on visual elements like facial expressions. Hence a big part of their research goes into face and eye-tracking. Eye contact is something that is still not possible to do in video conferencing.
Zuckerberg goes on to say that he is unclear if other tech companies are working on these aspects of the virtual world.
You can watch the video in its entirety on Lex Friedman’s YouTube channel.