TechScape: Cybercrime, AI supremacy and the metaverse – the tech stories that will dominate 2024

From the future of X to Apple’s Vision Pro headset, we make a call on the deals, products and technologies that could define this year

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Partway through 2023, I caught up with a respected, high-ranking tech writer at another publication. We gossiped and nattered, and, a bit exasperated, empathised with each other: we were run ragged.

The last two years have raised the stakes for what tech journalists do from serving a small niche community to covering stories that have an impact on the wider world. In part, that’s due to the increasing importance of technology in our day-to-day lives. It’s also down to the characters involved and what’s at stake.

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A moment’s silence, please, for the death of the Metaverse

Meta sank tens of billions into its CEO’s virtual reality dream, but what will he do next?

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember the metaverse, which was quietly laid to rest a few weeks ago by its grieving adoptive parent, one Mark Zuckerberg. Those of you with long memories will remember how, in October 2021, Zuck (as he is known to his friends) excitedly announced the arrival of his new adoptee, to which he had playfully assigned the nickname “The Future”.

So delighted was he that he had even renamed his family home in her honour. Henceforth, what was formerly called “Facebook” would be known as “Meta”. In a presentation at the company’s annual conference, Zuckerberg announced the name change and detailed how his child would grow up to be a new version of cyberspace. She “will be the successor to the mobile internet”, he told a stunned audience of credulous hacks and cynical Wall Street analysts. “We’ll be able to feel present – like we’re right there with people no matter how far apart we actually are.” And no expense would be spared in ensuring that his child would fulfil her destiny.

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Meta Reaffirms Commitment to Metaverse Vision, Has No Plans to Slow Billions in Reality Labs Investments

Meta announced its latest quarterly results, revealing that the company’s Reality Labs metaverse division is again reporting a loss of nearly $4 billion. The bright side? Meta’s still investing billions into XR, and it’s not showing any signs of stopping.

Meta revealed in its Q1 2023 financial results that its family of apps is now being used by over 3 billion people, an increase of 5% year-over-year, but its metaverse investments are still operating at heavy losses.

Reality Labs is responsible for R&D for its most forward-looking projects, including the Quest virtual reality headset platform, and its work in augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has warned shareholders in the past that Meta’s XR investments may not flourish until 2030.

Here’s a look at the related income losses and revenue for Reality Labs since it was formed as a distinct entity in Q4 2020:

Image created by Road to VR using data courtesy Meta

Meta reports Reality Labs generated $339 million in revenue during its first quarter of the year, a small fraction of the company’s 28.65 billion quarterly revenue. The bulk of that was generated from its family of apps—Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

While the $3.99 billion loss may show the company is tightening its belt in contrast to Q4 2022, which was at an eye-watering $4.28 billion, Meta says we should still expect those losses to continue to increase year-over-year in 2023.

This follows the company’s second big round of layoffs, the most recent of which this month has affected VR teams at Reality Labs, Downpour Interactive (Onward) and Ready at Dawn (Lone Echo, Echo VR). The company says a third round is due to come in May, which will affect the company’s business groups.

Dubbed by Zuckerberg as the company’s “year of efficiency,” the Meta founder and chief said this during the earning call regarding the company’s layoffs:

“This has been a difficult process. But after this is done, I think we’re going to have a much more stable environment for our employees. For the rest of the year, I expect us to focus on improving our distributed work model, delivering AI tools to improve productivity, and removing unnecessary processes across the company.”

Beyond its investment in AI, Zuckerberg says the recent characterization claiming the company has somehow moved away from focusing on the metaverse is “not accurate.”

“We’ve been focusing on both AI and the metaverse for years now, and we will continue to focus on both,” Zuckerberg says, noting that breakthroughs in both areas are essentially shared, such as computer vision, procedurally generated virtual worlds, and its work on AR glasses.

Notably, Zuckerberg says the number of titles in the Quest store with at least $25 million in revenue has doubled since last year, with more than half of Quest daily actives now spend more than an hour using their device.

The company previously confirmed a Quest 3 headset is set to release this year, which is said to be slightly pricier than the $400 Quest 2 headset with features “designed to appeal to VR enthusiasts.”

‘The metaverse will be our slow death!’ Is Facebook losing its $100bn gamble on virtual reality?

The company now known as Meta has spent staggering amounts on creating an immersive successor to the traditional 2D internet. But what has it got to show for it, apart from 11,000 job losses?

What a difference a year makes. Last October, Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg could barely wait to show the world what he was up to. “Today, we’re going to talk about the metaverse,” he enthused in a slick video presentation. “I want to share what we imagine is possible.” Transitioning almost seamlessly from his real self into a computer-generated avatar, Zuckerberg guided us through his vision for the virtual-reality future: playing poker in space with your buddies; sharing cool stuff; having work meetings and birthday parties with people on the other side of the world; customising your avatar (the avatars had no legs, which was weird). Zuckerberg was so all-in on the metaverse, he even rechristened his company Meta.

This month, we saw a more subdued Zuckerberg on display: “I wanna say upfront that I take full responsibility for this decision,” he told employees morosely. “This was ultimately my call and it was one of the hardest calls that I’ve had to make in the 18 years of running the company.” Meta was laying off 11,000 people – 13% of its workforce. Poor third-quarter results had seen Meta’s share price drop by 25%, wiping $80bn off the company’s value. Reality Labs, Meta’s metaverse division, had lost $3.7bn in the past three months, with worse expected to come. It wasn’t all bad news, though: Zuckerberg announced last month that Meta avatars would at last be getting legs.

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‘Extinction is on the table’: Jaron Lanier warns of tech’s existential threat to humanity

The American computer scientist, who coined the term ‘virtual reality,’ cautions against online ‘psychological operatives’

Jaron Lanier, the eminent American computer scientist, composer and artist, is no stranger to skepticism around social media, but his current interpretations of its effects are becoming darker and his warnings more trenchant.

Lanier, a dreadlocked free-thinker credited with coining the term “virtual reality”, has long sounded dire sirens about the dangers of a world over-reliant on the internet and at the increasing mercy of tech lords, their social media platforms and those who work for them.

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Meta’s virtual reality project will finally have legs – literally

Avatars in Mark Zuckerberg’s Horizon have so far hovered above ground with bodies ending at waist

A year after changing its name, the company formerly known as Facebook has revealed its plans to give the metaverse legs – literally.

Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual reality project is getting a raft of additions including a $1,499 (£1,356) “pro” headset, integration with Microsoft Office and the sitcom The Office, and, yes, the ambulatory appendages.

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Zuckerberg: Meta Pay Is Part Of A ‘Wallet For The Metaverse’

Meta will introduce a digital wallet for use in the metaverse, as part of its Meta Pay (formerly Facebook Pay) service.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the news in a post shared to his Facebook account. Zuckerberg wrote that the company’s existing service, Facebook Pay, is now Meta Pay — in line with the brand changes taking place across the year. Zuckerberg also indicated that Meta Pay will soon include “a wallet for the metaverse that lets you securely manage your identity, what you own, and how you pay.”

He said that this will let you purchase digital items — “digital clothing, art, videos, music, experiences, virtual events” — with some form of proof of ownership. Zuckerberg said this would be important for using those items across different services: 

Ideally, you should be able to sign into any metaverse experience and everything you’ve bought should be right there. There’s a long way to get there, but this kind of interoperability will deliver much better experiences for people and larger opportunities for creators. 

Zuckerberg’s remarks on long-term “interoperability” are intriguing, and could be referencing functionality that works across a wider range of products from different companies, not just Meta. Just a few days ago, plans were announced for a new metaverse standards forum, with participation from Microsoft, Meta, Adobe, Epic Games, Unity, NVIDIA, and much more. This announcement is the latest is a string of updates from Meta and Zuckerberg over the last few weeks. Earlier this week, Meta announced a digital storefront for avatar clothing, coming soon to VR.The company also gave a peek at new research developments for VR display technology, including retinal resolution and HDR prototype headsets.