Facebook made some major news this week not only for what it announced during its annual developers conference, but also for its far-reaching vision of what's coming down the line.
Alongside announcements about drones, bots and other plans to use its Messenger app to take over the world, Facebook also spent quite a bit of time talking about virtual reality. The company, of course, is the owner of Oculus — the VR firm with the most general recognition — and just released its first commercial VR headset, the Rift. The Rift is focused on gaming right now, but Facebook has been saying since it bought Oculus in 2014 that it has broader plans for making Oculus's technology work for more general social interaction.
Oculus's Yaser Sheikh, the head of research for Oculus's Pittsburgh lab, reeled off quite a few possibilities of what VR social interaction could actually look like. Check it out below, around the 59-minute mark.
Sheikh laid out a world where users could play a poker game with friends over VR that is so sensitive that you can read their tells. He describes what it could mean to people who live far away from their families to be able to interact with them through a headset. And he said that eventually his team hopes to make VR social interaction "indistinguishable from real life."
Of course, this will all take a lot of work. Right now, the commercial Rift doesn't even represent your hands in VR, though that is poised to change before the year is out. But Sheikh also described research that would let users put their whole bodies in a virtual world and accurately map facial expressions. The team is also trying to analyze real-world social interactions, to figure out how to let virtual interactions flow as seamlessly as in-person meetings.
He also warned that all the visions he laid out in his portion of the keynote speech were far from ready for prime-time.
A study released Wednesday by Greenlight VR predicted that it will take six to eight years for virtual reality to go fully mainstream. Given all the research that Sheikh said had to be completed to make social presence really work during the Facebook keynote, that sort of timeline could actually seem a little ambitious.
Then again, Facebook is clearly looking ahead for the long haul — these are the people, after all, who sent their chief executive onstage at a developers conference to lay out a decade's-worth of future plans.