Bill Gates once said that people “overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” Individual breakthroughs tend to accumulate in a non-linear fashion until the future suddenly comes into focus. As the old saying goes, it happens in two ways: gradually and then suddenly. And as we wrap up a wild 12 months of technological progress, I think it’s fair to say that 2023 has been a “sudden” kind of year.
Last month we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the founding of FAIR, our basic AI research lab. When we launched in 2013, there was tremendous excitement in the industry about the role AI would play in the future, and early machine learning applications were already playing a central role at Facebook. Few could have imagined then how impressive the progress would be. In fact, even just two years ago, many might have questioned it.
As we look ahead to 2024, another big milestone is coming: it will be 10 years since Meta started working on the computing platform of the future at Reality Labs. These two emerging technologies – AI and the metaverse – represent Meta’s biggest long-term bets on the future. And in 2023, we began to see these two technological paths cross in the form of products available to a large number of people.
One of the highlights of the year was seeing the road Llama and llama 2 was embraced by the developer community, with more than 100 million downloads and continuous improvements coming from organizations worldwide as they iterate. In India, Jio tweaked it quickly to build a new tool to serve its more than half a billion customers. And HuggingFaces Open the LLM Leaderboard has been filled with impressive projects built on Llama 2 leading the way. These are just a handful of the more than 13,000 llama varieties out there.
Like all new technologies, AI will have its greatest impact when it is available to everyone. It wasn’t that long ago that being able to create beautiful images using text prompts was actually out of reach for most people. But today we are add tools like collaborative image generation, conversational assistants, writing assistants and smart image editors to products already used by billions of people around the world.
A platform shift
The change we’ve seen over the past year suggests there’s a path for AI to become a primary means of interacting with machines. The stage is set for new types of devices that can perceive, understand and interact with the world around us in ways never before possible.
Our AI-powered Ray-Ban Meta glasses show such a path. Our new Meta AI assistant combines vision and language understanding to see the world from your perspective and work with you to understand it. And we’re testing new multimodal AI features on the glasses. With this enabled, they can translate a foreign language you’re trying to read, or come up with a funny caption for a photo you’ve taken. And they can do it all hands-free, without you having to pull out a phone or use an app.
We believe that one of the most powerful manifestations of cutting-edge AI will be assistants that can understand the world around you and help you throughout your day, eventually without having to be asked. Glasses are the ideal form factor for this – they can see and hear the world from your point of view, they’re already socially acceptable, they can be worn all day and they allow you to be fully present in the moment.
At Reality Labs, we’ve invested years of research into the technologies needed to advance this—things like always-on ultra-low-power sensors and machine perception systems that can understand your context. We’re not just pioneering a new type of device here—we’ll be pushing it forward for years to come.
Mixed reality and spatial computing represent another way forward. These are not just incremental improvements to the personal computing paradigm that has dominated the past 50 years. They represent a fundamental change that is just beginning to come into focus.
Making these new technologies available to as many people as possible has been a top priority for Reality Labs for many years now, so releases the first mass market mixed reality headset this September was another highlight of 2023 for us.
Within months of Meta Quest 3’s release, seven of the top 20 apps are mixed reality apps. We see strong signals that people really value these experiences. There are already hundreds of mixed reality apps in our store where a majority of users have tried mixed reality features. Seeing what happens when many people get hold of a new technology like this has been delightful:
We will see these advances accelerate in 2024 as more people gain access to mixed reality and developers learn to harness its power. Whether it’s immersive NBA viewing on Xtadium or a whole new approach to learning music on Pianovision, we’re already seeing MR deliver experiences that would be impossible on any other type of device.
The long term
Making long-term investments in emerging technologies is not easy. It’s not guaranteed to work, and it certainly isn’t cheap. It’s also one of the most valuable things a tech company can do—and the only way to stay relevant in the long term. Seeing Meta’s two biggest long-term technology ventures both mature and intersect this year has been an extremely powerful reminder of the importance of maintaining a sound investment in future technologies. And it has given us an even clearer picture of the innovation we need to deliver in the coming decade.
In AI, this means full speed ahead on what’s next: what comes after today’s generation of LLM and generative AI? Most researchers agree that there is still plenty of opportunity to build bigger and better language, image and video models with the technology we have today. But there are still fundamental breakthroughs and entirely new architectures to be discovered, and our AI research teams at Meta are on the way to discovering them.
This means ongoing research in areas such as embodied AI, which aims to build models that experience the world as humans do. The path to human-level AI, our researchers believe, will require systems that have one deeper understanding of how the world worksand our teams are already making progress at this, with years of work left.
And at Reality Labs, ours researchers are driving some of the most promising technologies that will make the next computing platform possible. Over the years, this research has led to breakthroughs like the pancake lenses on the Quest Pro and Quest 3 and the amazing Codec Avatars prototype that Mark Zuckerberg and Lex Fridman tried this year. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and Reality Lab’s research breakthroughs will enable us to release a range of world-class products in the coming years.
But of all the things I’ve mentioned here, the most valuable technologies are the ones in people’s hands today. The progress made in 2023 means that generative AI is making its way into the heart of the world’s most popular apps, mixed reality is now at the core of a mass market headset, and smart glasses are letting AI see the world from our perspective for the first time. This is an extremely exciting time to build the future on. More importantly, it’s a great time to be living in it.
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