Facebook F8: Facebook Spaces is still impractical, but thanks to AI, at least it's getting more personal

What is Facebook Spaces? It’s a question that’s bothered us since the time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the platform in October last year. The idea is exciting to be sure, but it never seemed very practical.

During his keynote at the ongoing F8 developer’s conference, Zuckerberg touched upon Spaces again, and this time he spoke about how artificial intelligence (AI) was being used to improve the experience.

In principle, Spaces hasn’t changed much since its unveiling at Oculus Connect. It’s still a virtual room into which you can invite up to three of your friends and indulge in virtual interactions.

Facebook Spaces friends 1 720

At Oculus Connect, Zuckerberg showed off the avatars that would represent you in VR. These avatars were quite primitive and only offered a limited range of facial animations and expressions. Their likeness to you was also not very good.

Facebook has apparently leveraged AI to improve upon this. AI now analyses your photos and suggests avatars that are a better likeness of you. You can also better customise these avatars by tweaking things like the hairstyle, skin tone, etc. Of course, you needn’t pick an avatar that Facebook’s AI chose for you.

AI will now suggest better avatars based on your images

AI will now suggest better avatars based on your images

The expressions have apparently been improved, and with the right hardware, might eventually be able to monitor your own facial expressions and replicate them in VR. If you have an Oculus Touch kit, moving your hands in VR will definitely feel more natural.

You can still share photos and videos in that VR space with your friends, but now you can also dive into, say, a 360 degree video with your friends.

Facebook Spaces party 720

The real problem with Spaces, one that will remain unaddressed until VR actually goes mainstream, is the fact that VR hardware is expensive and still niche. An Oculus Rift kit with sufficient cameras and controllers will easily set you back by over Rs 80,000 per unit.

Samsung’s Gear VR and controller are also a good option, and they’re much cheaper than a Rift, but they’re still too expensive an indulgence for the average consumer.

Selfies in Spaces

Selfies in Spaces

But that’s not why Spaces exist, and to bash it for being out of reach of the masses is disingenuous. All Facebook is doing right now is building a platform that people will want to use, eventually. Once the groundwork is in place, there will be a VR platform to jump onto once VR reaches a tipping point.

Among the tools demoed at F8 was one that involved Facebook Messenger and Spaces. The idea is that you can call someone up on Messenger (via video) while you’re in a VR Space and that person will be able to “see” your VR space through Messenger. It’s like a little window into your friend’s VR world.

Facebook Spaces still hasn’t offered a compelling reason to invest in it. It’s novel and it’s interesting, and that’s about it.

For now, that might be enough.

Published Date: Apr 19, 2017 02:22 pm | Updated Date: Apr 19, 2017 02:22 pm