On Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mark Zuckerberg partook in what he thought would be a “fireside chat” with Wired’s Jessi Hempel, but which was verifiably not fireside, and was, actually, a keynote.
Inverse picked out the best nine moments of this interview.
1. Zuck doesn’t know that Aquila will meet regulations, but is just confident that it’ll work out.
Zuck reported that Aquila, Facebook’s casual wifi-beaming, solar-powered drone project, is coming along well. A team is currently constructing the second full-scale drone — which has the wingspan of a 747, is only as heavy as a car, and will be able to stay aloft for as long as six months — and another team is testing large-but-not-full-scale models every week. These drones will transmit high-bandwidth signals via a laser communications system, which, he says, require a degree of accuracy on par with hitting a quarter on the top of the Statue of Liberty with a laser pointer in California. The goal, he added, is to get these drones beaming wifi that’s 10 to 100 times faster than current systems. Facebook will roll out its first full-scale trials later this year, and Zuck expects that, within 18 months, Aquila will be airborne.
Zuck was blasé, however, with respect to whether these drones will meet regulations, whether any governments will resist massive information-communicating drones flying miles above their countries. A true optimist, Zuck thinks the obvious benefits will outweigh any extant paranoias about, say, Facebook’s motives. “I think a lot of folks are going to be welcome on that,” he told Hempel.
2. Zuck would really just prefer that everyone trusts his motivations.
Aside from Facebook proper, Zuck claimed that Facebook’s countless side projects are not about making money. And, by the sound of it, he’s actually offended — or, worse, bummed — that the media would dare criticize or call into question his genuine humanitarianism. (Guilty as charged.) Free Basics, Zuck said, will not run in-app advertisements, and he added: “We actually don’t want to have any real business success. Not until everyone else is making money first.” He reminded the audience that, soon, Facebook will launch its first satellite over Africa. There are still plenty who are wary of that plan.
And he attempted to spurn all future attempts to tarnish Facebook’s good name and sincerity: “People don’t ever take you for face value on this — we’re really just trying to put people on the internet. … A lot of people think that companies don’t care about anything except for making money.” Hempel asked him to “Say more,” and Zuck, stubbornly, responded: “I mean … that’s a full thought.” He then caved in to the pressure, and elaborated. He, and others at Facebook, realized a while ago that “having a for-profit company” is an effective way to make the world a better place. “As long as we care about connecting people and building better services for people,” Zuck said.
3. Zuck thinks 5G networks need to happen, and happen fast, for VR to actually take off.
He first spoke about the exciting applications for VR, specifically at Facebook. People are seeking “better and better ways to express things that they care about and consume things that they care about in the world,” and Facebook, together with Oculus and Samsung, will be there waiting with Social VR when those people get desperate enough. Ten or 15 years ago, Zuck said, “most of what we consumed on the web was text.” Then it was photos, and now — thanks to a “huge tailwind” because mobile networks can now handle it — it’s video. As the networks get better and better, he thinks, we’ll “just see more of that.” He doesn’t, however, think the line stops there. There’s “always a more immersive way [to] share an experience in your life.”
And he continued: “What I think we’re going to see next,” he began, and “sooner than we think”: the “ability to share whole scenes.” Which ability Zuck really, really wants for when his 3-month-old daughter takes her first steps. But it’s not just personal: He thinks that with richer, more immersive forms of media, people will develop a higher capacity for empathy. (Although he might want to leave any claim on that level to the philosophers.)
The biggest trend on Facebook today, he explained, is video watching. Again, this is due to the tailwind from increased mobile video-viewing capacities. But — and this is the important part — “that’s going to need to get a lot better for virtual reality.” We can get as excited as we want about the future of VR, but it’ll all be for naught until the networks can handle it.
And that’s where 5G will come in, Zuck said, which will “require a pretty meaningful upgrade in the networks.” But, he added, “by the time that we get to live 4K-in-each-eye streaming of whole scenes in VR, that’s going to be a pretty big deal.”
4. Zuck was bashful with respect to his pet artificial intelligence, which will basically be J.A.R.V.I.S.
“It’s early. It takes a long time to build an A.I. A lot longer than people think. In reality,” he said, “I’m just trying to build something simple.” Something simple that will enable him to just order his house to do whatever he wants his house to do, which, he thinks, would be “kind of nice.”
But, mostly, Zuck just misses being able to code.
Facebook hired all of the world’s best coders, and now, the implication seemed to be, Zuck is merely left to run the company.
5. Zuck admits that “A.I.” really just exploits a tiny capability of the brain and makes said capability work for us.
He touted the capacities of A.I. as far as pattern recognition goes — which is extremely useful when it comes to voice transcription, language interpretation and translation, and self-driving cars (all of which, in essence, study and learn from patterns) — but admitted that we’re still eons away from legitimate A.I. (In part, this admission seemed to be an attempt to quell fears of maleficent A.I.s. The possibility of maleficent A.I.s really freaks some people out.
Specifically, Zuck said:
- “We know we’re nowhere near understanding how intelligence actually works.”
- “We get, at a deep level, that no one actually understands how the human brain works.”
And suggested that “A.I.s,” as we currently know them, really just exploit one tiny feature or functionality of a human brain to great effect. Hence it’s been really helpful to teach computers pattern recognition, but pattern recognition is a laughably little task that the human brain does all the time with no difficulty. A computer that focuses exclusively on pattern recognition, though, will probably do it better than a distractible, fickle human. (Especially so if that person uses Facebook.)
6. Zuck predicts imminent demise of photos and text sharing in “a few years,” which he thinks is a “pretty profound thing.”
“We’re gonna be in a world a few years from now [in which] the vast majority of content people consume online is going to be video.”
Let that sink in.
7. Zuck fence-sits re: Apple vs. the U.S. government and the infamous iPhone.
“We’re sympathetic with Apple on this one,” Zuck said. Encryption, Zuck thinks, is an important tool — and people are going to find a way to encrypt their connections no matter what the government does. Discouraging or outlawing encryption is, therefore, “not the right regulatory or economic policy to put in place.”
At the same time, he admitted that Facebook has “a responsibility to help prevent terrorism,” adding that “if there’s any content that’s promoting terrorism or sympathizing with ISIS,” then Facebook will quash that content. “We feel a strong responsibility to make sure that society is safe,” he said, but requiring back doors is not the answer. (John McAfee, however, thinks that he could be.) “I don’t think that requiring back doors is going to be effective in increasing safety,” nor is it the direction the world is going in, Zuck said.
8. Zuck talks about technology and his daughter, Max.
Zuckerberg and his wife have not yet discussed their technology-usage-restrictions for their 3-month-old daughter, Max. Facebook’s policy is kids under 13 are not supposed to be on the site, so, Zuck said, he thinks it’d be pretty hypocritical to allow Max to get on there before 13. Oculus might be different, though — Oculus might be under 13. But he added: “I’m pretty pro-technology, so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if she grew up liking technology.”
And this man, the founder and CEO of Facebook, is optimistic about the future. “Things,” he believes, “are getting better.” There’s more knowledge, healthcare is improving, and violence, overall, is on the decline. To him, these positive changes are (at least in part) due to the increased prevalence and capacities of technology. “I think a huge driver of [these positive changes] is technology.”
“We look out at the world and say, ‘Our children really should live dramatically better lives than all of us have been able to.’ The question,” he added, is “how do you invest to make sure” that that improvement comes about.
9. Despite a preponderance of quality questions from Hempel, overall awkwardness rules the day.
The body mics were giving off feedback. An early discussion centered around how often Zuck bathed his baby. Handheld mics were brought out to remedy the feedback issues. Not long thereafter, a stagehand rushed onstage to deliver a private, seemingly important note to Zuck, who then, after a quick glance, announced to the crowd: “She tells me I’m sweating.” (Later, Hempel asked Zuck what he’s learned — personally — from live-streaming video on Facebook. His response: “Try to sweat less?”)
Zuck continued to reference the mic issues throughout the interview, chalking up his inability to concentrate, for instance, to the continued technical hiccups. But, as the hourlong interview progressed, the new father warmed up, and with it, Zuck’s more eloquent answers began to flow.