AUSTIN, Texas — In just a few years, Mark Zuckerberg could appear as a hologram, conducting the talk he gave at SXSW Tuesday through augmented reality glasses instead of a computer screen.
That’s part of the vision the Meta founder laid out for the Metaverse during a Tuesday afternoon chat with FUBU clothing line founder and “Shark Tank” star, Daymond John. Holo chats not being a reality just yet, Zuckerberg spoke with John over a Zoom meeting that appeared on large screens in front of a packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Center. Following is their conversation, condensed and edited for clarity.
JOHN: The Metaverse is the next chapter of the internet, right? Just like we had the mobile internet, this is going to be the successor to that, and the defining characteristic of the Metaverse is that you really feel like you’re present with other people or in another place.
ZUCKERBERG: Right. It’s different from the internet that we experience today, in that you might look at documents, you might look at a website. But the future is you’re going to be in it. More of the time is going to be spent with experiences. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll basically have the ability to feel like you’re right there and present with another person and everything that comes with it.
The Metaverse isn’t a thing that a company builds. It’s sort of like the next chapter of the internet overall. Our goal is to basically help build some of the fundamental technologies to bring the Metaverse to life, whether it’s the virtual reality headsets or the augmented reality headsets or the networks or social presence systems. The essence of what the Metaverse is about and all the technology that we’re building is trying to deliver that sense of presence and immersion, which I think is going to enable an awesome set of different social experiences.
JOHN: My friend happens to be quadriplegic, but now he can run on the beach. A more mature couple can go back to the days when they first got married. How are other people finding connectivity in the Metaverse?
ZUCKERBERG: There’s all these really amazing experiences that people are building already. Most of the time in Quest, our virtual reality headsets, is actually in social experiences. We built a social experience platform called Horizon, and people are building all kinds of amazing stuff there, everything from a comedy club where people can go and tell jokes to a Brooklyn-based teacher who built a museum for black art where she’s basically selling a piece of art that she makes.
There’s an awesome set of things we’re seeing around productivity. We built this tool Workrooms where you basically have a meeting in there. You’re around the table with people, and you feel like you’re like you’re right there. It’s pretty interesting to experience because the avatars are not the same photo-realistic fidelity of this Zoom call, but in a lot of ways, I think it actually feels more real to be around a virtual table with people and to be able to gesture and make eye contact with people and look at them. You can turn to your side and whisper something to the person next to you, which you can’t do on a video call.
JOHN: Let’s talk about avatars for a minute and e-commerce. What are people going to do in the future? Are they going to have one avatar or are they going to have six?
ZUCKERBERG: There’s a lot of different possibilities here, but fundamentally I think you’re right. You’re not just going to want to represent yourself in one way all the time. Maybe if you’re in a formal business meeting, rather than doing a video chat, you’ll just put on a headset, whether it’s a VR headset or AR glasses. In that setting, maybe you want it to be more formal and more realistic, so you’re your photo-realistic self. But some of the time, you’re going to want to be a little more playful and a stylized version of yourself.
There are a lot of reasons why people want to be in person with each other and why the technology is not as good yet as people being in person. That’s going to be true for a while. People are wanting to get together. But I also think that a lot of people’s opportunities, whether they’re social opportunities or economic opportunities, has been really anchored to where they were physically — where they were born, where they happened to live, where their families are. And I hope through this technology, we can try to break that down, make it that no matter where you physically are anchored, you can jump into the Metaverse and teleport to a different place and access all the opportunity of anywhere.
JOHN: Meta has incredible apps: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. Those are things that we go to daily. What do you believe is going to be the daily driver for people to want to be in the Metaverse?
ZUCKERBERG: I think it will be different things for different people. What we’re going to see is the ability of virtual reality and augmented reality devices to jump into the Metaverse from some of the 2D platforms, like Instagram and Facebook. For some people, it’ll be games. For some people, it’ll be productivity. A really interesting one that I’ve seen recently is fitness. Instead of buying an expensive Peloton bike, you can just use your Quest headset and get a subscription to boxing classes.
Long term, I would hope that the clothing that your avatar is wearing in the Metaverse can be basically minted as an NFT. You take it between your different places. There’s a bunch of technical things that need to get worked out before that will really be seamless to happen, but we’re working on bringing NFTs to Instagram in the near term. I’m not ready to announce exactly what that’s going to be today, but that’s over the next several months.
JOHN: How are you going to allow underserved or underrepresented communities a seat at the table? How is this going to empower them?
ZUCKERBERG: Fundamentally, it’s some of the stuff that we talked about before — about just being able to access opportunity no matter where you live. There’s some really interesting research that for a lot of people, their upward economic mobility is kind of limited by where they’ve grown up. So the ability to transcend geographic boundaries and be present everywhere, this is a big part of the fundamental promise and why I care so much about what we’re building here. But like you’re saying, you have to be intentional about this. We’ve started a number of programs to get different groups at the table thinking about what the standards should be. We should be building this stuff from the ground up. These are pretty important programs that we funding.
We’re also really trying to take different forms of diversity into account when we’re building out how people can express themselves. It’s not just ‘here’s a bunch of different body types and pick the color of their skin.’ It’s really important to make sure that people see themselves in the system that’s getting built. We’ve been pretty careful to try to include things like wheelchairs and hearing aids and all kinds of things like that into the avatar system. These systems aren’t huge yet, but we wanted to prioritize getting that in because as people are thinking about having all these experiences in the Metaverse, the question is, “Do I see myself in this?”