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F8 Day Two: Facebook Talks VR, AI and UAVs

Alex Spencer

785a7728Facebook's annual developer conference F8 has wrapped up after a second day of talks. The day wasn't as packed with announcements as the first, with a great focus on technology – from infrastructure to AI – best summed up by CTO Mike Schroepfer during his keynote: “Today we're going to talk about the future”.

Schroepfer laid out the company's three major priorities over the coming years: virtual reality; internet connectivity across the globe; and artificial intelligence that can better intepret and contextualise data.

This first topic was addressed in a presentation from Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash. Backed up by a number of optical illusions, Abrash made the case for VR's ability to completely convince our brains we are somewhere else – in another reality – which “makes VR different and more powerful than anything that has come before”. However, he didn't give any real insight into how Facebook will be leveraging VR beyond Oculus' original mission statement of more immersive video games.

On expanding connectivity, Schroepfer announced that Aquila, the drone – or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) – that Facebook will be using to beam internet access into unconnected regions, has completed its first test flight.

Finally, Schroepfer showed some of the work being done on AI at Facebook, including a technology called 'Memory Networks' which enables a machine to answer relatively sophisticated questions – demonstrated using a comprehension test on a synopsis of The Lord of the Rings.

Facebook also announced six open source projects, including the open availability of React Native, a framework for developing native app user interfaces, and ComponentKit, a library for functional and declarative UI, which is used in the Facebook iOS app's News Feed. The iOS versions of both can be downloaded from source code library GitHub, with the Android version of React 'coming soon'.