About two years ago, Mark Zuckerberg rebranded his company from Facebook to Meta with a focus on building the “metaverse,” a virtual reality realm. However, since 2021, the metaverse’s popularity has waned, with companies like Disney shutting down metaverse divisions, and crypto-based startup metaverses facing challenges. In 2022, Meta’s Reality Labs division reported a significant operational loss of $13.7 billion.
Despite these setbacks, at Meta Connect 2023, Zuckerberg remains committed to the metaverse, albeit with a shift in emphasis. Previously, he envisioned the metaverse as a fully digital world, but now he emphasizes a blend of the physical and digital realms. Zuckerberg envisions a future where people can be physically present with friends while others join digitally as avatars or holograms, creating a seamless experience. He also sees scenarios where AI entities, embodied as holograms, assist in various tasks during meetings or gatherings.
While these ideas aren’t entirely new for Meta, the presentation marks a departure from Zuckerberg’s 2021 vision. Back then, he promised a decade where most people would immerse themselves in a 3D version of the internet using Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform. The latest keynote, however, shifts the focus to incorporating the virtual into everyday living spaces, such as solving puzzles or playing games in one’s living room.
The Horizon Worlds platform did make an appearance, but attention was also directed towards AI advancements. Zuckerberg highlighted new features powered by Meta’s AI technology, including AI chatbots for brainstorming and AI assistants integrated into Instagram, Messenger, or WhatsApp. These AI innovations are intended to propel the metaverse forward, although their immediate association with the term is not entirely clear.
While Meta faces challenges in redefining the metaverse and introducing AI features, the company cannot afford to abandon the concept. The term “metaverse” is intrinsic to its identity. However, the ambiguity surrounding the definition of the metaverse may work to Meta’s advantage, allowing them to encompass various technologies, from VR to AI, under the metaverse umbrella. Ultimately, whatever Meta pursues may be considered the metaverse, particularly from Mark Zuckerberg’s perspective.