If the Facebook (FB) of the future suggest some similarities to Skynet, the self-aware artificial intelligence villain in "The Terminator" movies, it's not hard to see why.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week provided a glimpse of where he sees the social-media giant in a decade, and it involves a novel combination of drones, lasers, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. In other words, it's not the Facebook of Zuckerberg's formative years at Harvard, which he dropped out of 11 years ago to focus on building a social network for college students.
To some, it may seem like a vision from a science-fiction movie.
Of course, Facebook has always been about evolution and pushing product development, as well as carefully plucking acquisitions such as Instagram and Oculus Rift. And while it might seem odd that Facebook would get involved in drones and lasers, it's all geared toward the company's long-term goal of providing Internet (and Facebook) access to everyone across the globe. Drones, for instance, will help bring fast online connectivity to people who currently can't get it.
While Facebook's ambitions are huge and raise questions about whether the company will succeed in achieving them, another niggling problem is at hand. Will Americans -- and everyone else on the globe -- want to hand over so many aspects of their lives to Facebook, which doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to privacy?
"They're looking to have you bring your real-world ID to every digital experience you have, whether that's texting with a business or sharing photos on a stream or jumping into the next digital world," said Christian Brucculeri, the chief executive of Snaps Media, a New York-based mobile messaging platform. One potential downside for Facebook, he noted, is that "young digital consumers want to own their content," which may cause some of them to search for alternatives.
Still, a Facebook of drones and lasers isn't happening anytime soon. At this point, the company is investing in the technology and people it hopes will make its 10-year plan a reality. Earlier this week, Facebook said it hired Regina Dugan, the former head of DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She'll lead a new team called Building 8, into which Zuckerberg said the company will invest "hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars" over the next few years to help achieve his long-term goals.
In the nearer term, the social network will continue working on issues such as getting its customers to spend more time on the platform and improving products such as Instagram and Messenger.
Consumers may first notice changes with Messenger, Facebook's instant-messaging platform, than in other areas. That's because the company is making a chatbot platform for Messenger, which will allow marketers to reach out to consumers, and vice versa. For instance, if you spill coffee on your shirt, you might start a Messenger chat with a bot owned by a detergent company to find a solution.
The bot might say something like "Welcome to Stain Genie. What's your problem?" said Brucculeri. The bot would next give advice and offer a how-to video and a coupon for purchasing the detergent, he said. Media companies could ask to show a consumer news reports or other content, allowing the user to decide whether to read more or search for additional articles.
"I call it the bumper bowling of building a chatbot," Brucculeri said. "It allows you to select from a menu of options, but it doesn't mimic human behavior."
Messenger's evolution pushes Facebook's long-time goal of enabling social interaction, said Chris Monberg, chief technology officer of Boomtrain, an artificial intelligence company. At the heart of its success is Facebook's ability to extract users' likes and dislikes, and then tweak their newsfeed -- or, in the future, their Messenger content -- to give consumers what they're interested in, he noted.
"The more you know about the user, when and what to communicate to them can be super-successful," Monberg said. "They are trying to make our live easier and make some money from it."
As for whether Facebook can achieve its 10-year plan, Monberg said he believes it will take longer than the company expects.
Zuckerberg "wants to be taken much more seriously by the global community," Monberg said. "He's setting a vision. Will he execute in getting drones in the air in 10 years? I would be surprised."
On the artificial intelligence side, though, it's more likely, he added: "The time is definitely now."