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Facebook talks up need for virtual reality, big tech bets

SANFRANCISCO: Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and drones will enable Facebook Inc to create a more lifelike and useful social network, the company said in its clearest explanation so far for technology projects that have puzzled some investors and analysts.

Facebook executives made the case on Thursday, at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, that initiatives such as its $2 billion purchase of virtual reality headset maker Oculus last year, and the hiring of aerospace experts make sense for the 1.4-billion member social network.

While virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift suggest video games and entertainment, the gadgets could transform how people communicate on Facebook, they said.

Events such as a birthday party or a child’s first bike ride could be shared on Facebook so that users in different parts of the world felt as if they were taking part.

Facebook said the Oculus headset will be released “before long,” but did not provide a time frame.

“After thousands of demos we know we are just on the cusp, just getting there to get that sense of presence where for a moment your conscious brain is overruled by the subconscious that says, ‘You are not where you think you are,'” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said during his on-stage talk on the second day of the 2-day conference.

Facebook had never made clear its virtual reality plans, Vlada Bortnik, the founder of app-maker Happy Bits, said at the conference. “Their mission is to connect the world and VR teleports people into a different place.”

Facebook said it had recently conducted the first test flight of a solar-powered drone prototype. It is building drones that will fly at an altitude of up to 90,000 feet to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Facebook and Google Inc are building Internet-beaming satellites and drones to connect billions of people who lack Internet access, as the companies compete to become the go-to online hub for consumers and marketers.

Facebook’s artificial intelligence group is already planning for the flood of new users by developing technology to help them cope with the surge in messages and photos on the social network.

“If we achieve our first goal, get everyone on the Internet, build services at scale for the entire planet, we create this new problem: so much information you can’t consume the stuff that’s important to you,” CTO Schroepfer said. (Reuters)

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