Our scheduled interview with Israel’s Meta executive was postponed due to Mark Zuckerberg’s dramatic announcement that 11,000 of the company’s employees were to be laid off.
It hasn’t been the best of years for Meta, formerly known as Facebook, to put it mildly. Zuckerberg’s insistence on focusing his efforts on the virtual reality world we’re supposed to soon live in, dubbed the Metaverse, seems like a gamble at the moment, especially in light of the tens of billions of dollars invested in the project. .
Facebook itself was supposed to be the backup in case the Metaverse dream didn’t fully materialize, but Zuckerberg wasn’t counting on TikTok to gain the kind of popularity it did – causing Meta to lose even more revenue. Meta’s stock has lost 65% of its value since January, with no signs that the avalanche is about to end.
Yet Zuckerberg isn’t slowing down. It puts all its chips in the virtual basket of Metaverse, its “reality labs” division continuing to dump huge sums of money into it. This division has offices around the world, one of which is in Israel.
Now, for the first time, Meta allows one of its employees to be interviewed. Meet Dadi Gadot, Head of Reality Labs Division in Tel Aviv.
“Before the invention of cars, no rider talked about a motorized carriage,” he says. “They talked about a more efficient and less demanding horse. When it comes to the Metaverse, there’s a vision at play and we’re focused on the technology to bring it to life.”
Gadot is a 38-year-old father of two, residing with his family in Tel Aviv. He served in the Air Force and until today still enjoys making time for virtual flight simulators. He joined Meta two years ago and was one of the founders of Magic Leap, where he worked on designing the company’s second-generation VR set.
The Gadot software division now manages sections from Western Europe to the United States. “While our primary focus is on software, we also work closely with hardware, on things like sensors and processors.”
What is Metaverse, anyway?
“It’s a 3D internet environment, as opposed to our computers and phones, which are 2D. This means that if someone virtually joins a conversation, they will feel like they’re right next to us, even if he is on the other side of the world. Even if I am here and you are in San Francisco, you can invite me to a round of golf. We call it “Presence Platform”.
“Meta already sells these long-distance training routines for their VR headset called Quest. You can train from home even if your instructor is in the Philippines because you feel like they’re right next to you. Everything is done via portable devices.”
Are you referring to those clunky, eye-blocking helmets?
“No. Our vision is for glasses that are tiny and thin, so you won’t need anything on your desk other than space to place your hands. Since they’re transparent, that means you’ll be able to interact both with the people next to you and those thousands of miles, and it will be exactly the same. That’s the future.”
So you’re saying we should forget about VR headsets, because they’re thin AR (augmented reality) glasses.
“I’m not saying you should forget, since VR headsets have and will have value, even after our final vision materializes. It’s an additional product that you can use. They have a lot of users and more and more applications are being developed for them. In Herzliya, for example, there is a company that has bought its employees all the VR headsets and they are running it.”
What is the difference between AR and VR?
“VR is just virtual reality, like the Quest headsets we already have. With them, you can see a virtual world in a 360-degree field of view.”
“MR, which is mixed reality, are headsets with cameras and sensors that interpret the world around you and your facial expressions.
“AR is augmented reality. These headsets are transparent and combine the physical world with virtual elements.
“Quest headsets are VR and our Quest Pro headsets are MR (mixed reality). Our vision, as I said, is AR headsets where you can see the real world with virtual elements in the same space. In our software group, we are actually working on all three.”
Give me a specific challenge you face.
“We are working on the system that can identify and calculate objects in the virtual space, so if, for example, a virtual monster enters the room, its ability to maneuver would take these objects into account.
“We are also working on avatars. We track facial expressions and changes such as blinking, talking, smiling, etc. 3D avatars will look exactly like you. It will work on all platforms, including your phone. Another challenge is to extend the functionality of the kind of controllers you see on game consoles.”
Honest, however. Are you focusing on a need that doesn’t exist? I get along fine without playing virtual golf with my Hawaiian friend.
“New technologies always face these kinds of questions. Smartphones didn’t seem necessary when we had computers. We constantly need different tools for different applications. We try to connect people in every way we can.”
So we could be using AR glasses all day for navigation and stuff like that, and in the evenings using our VR headsets to disengage from the physical world.
“If you want to give a presentation in peace, you can use VR headsets to work on it while sitting on a desert island beach.”
Isn’t it just a fantasy? You seem far from this utopian vision. Zuckerberg talked about endless challenges in development, and none of the models he showcased come close to the AR glasses you’re talking about.
“The technology to enable all of this has been around for eight years. We’re working to personalize the experience for people’s homes, not just organizations. That sets us apart from others in the market.”
But Google has already tried Google Glass and Microsoft has already tried Hollow Lens. It did not work. It’s too clunky and expensive, and it’s not user-friendly either.
“Remember the first cell phones? Those Motorolas were like a suitcase. From there they went into our cars and from there into our pockets. It’s about perfecting miniaturization over time. We’re doing the same. Eventually it will work as expected.”
What about physical limitations? Our phones have cameras that could never compete with high-end DSLRs because there simply isn’t room for a high-quality lens.
“There are no physical limits for our five-year goal. I know that for a fact. There are challenges, of course. Miniaturizing with power loss or overheating. Stuff like that. The AR glasses we want will be a major breakthrough for humanity. We already have a prototype called ARIA.
In virtual reality, location matters. Aren’t you nullifying the physical dimension?
“No. The goal of what we do is to match the virtual with the physical. It is about identifying objects and their behavior from a physical point of view. We can already do this in the context of a room. Soon it will be a home, mansion, city and eventually the whole world.”
“Let’s say Habima Theater is putting on a virtual play. You’ll be able to see it on the AR glasses as if it’s right in front of you. Virtual characters are running around your living room.”
And the AR glasses will also allow me to know the rent of an apartment in which I worked or the menu of a restaurant that I passed through.
“It’s about layering information and modeling the real world. As Waze and Google Maps model the real world in 2D with roads, we’re working on modeling the world in 3D and adding layers of information by- above.”
How to interact with the glasses? With the telephone, I use a finger, for example.
“The biggest challenge is finding technology that integrates with human physics, but there are options – recognizing the point you are focusing on with your pupils, moving virtual objects with your fingers. There are bracelets that identify the signals our mind sends to our extremities.
So I understand how the Metaverse connects to games and workouts, but what about things like Microsoft Office? How can I engage with these?
“We are aiming for a 3D desktop, not confined by space. Your laptop and phone have a screen limitation. With the glasses, I will have as many screens as I want. The space around me is my playground. With wearable technology and 3D technology, you will be able to engage everything in different ways.”
You assume the glasses will be comfortable enough to wear all the time. Without it, Metaverse will not happen.
“It’s a mission, not an assumption. If before smartphones I told you that you would spend a good part of your day staring at a small screen, you would laugh at me, but that’s what happened. We try to make the value of wearing these glasses so high, that it will be worth wearing them.”
So why is there so much distrust of Meta? Even employees and investors are speaking out against some of Zuckerberg’s decisions.
“We have become accustomed to many innovations that come quickly, but some revolutions take time. Especially with hardware. The idea of Metaverse has been around for 30 years. We have become accustomed to a rapid pace of inventions, but our plans are quite aggressive and won’t take too long.”
But someone has to foot the bill. Zuckerberg has poured money into your Reality Labs, without a single dollar in return so far.
“Our sales data gives us confidence. The latest projections indicate that by 2031, Metaverse will account for 2.8% of global GDP. That’s billions of dollars a year, and the lion’s share will go to the company that will release product ready to release, not a half-baked attempt.”
Where is Israel in all this adventure?
“Israel has the three main components required for these kinds of businesses. Content experts who know how to build apps, engineers who can plan chips and sensors, and people who can do both. money by working with Israeli startups on the metaverse. We’re preparing Israel to play a major role in the metaverse from the get-go, and it’s happening.
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