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Meta launches AI companion for Facebook, Insta, WhatsApp, showcases AR-VR updates

Mark Zuckerberg, the Chief Executive of Meta Platforms, unveiled a range of new AI-driven consumer products on Wednesday. These innovations include bots capable of generating photo-realistic images, smart glasses with responsive capabilities, and an updated virtual reality headset.

Zuckerberg emphasized that these products represent a virtual and real-world convergence. He highlighted Meta’s commitment to providing low-cost or free AI solutions seamlessly integrating into our daily lives.

Meta’s Quest is the top seller in the emerging virtual reality (VR) market, touted as offering the best value in the industry.

A slew of new AR/VR devices
From the central courtyard at Meta’s expansive Silicon Valley campus, Zuckerberg announced that the latest generation of Meta’s Ray-Ban smart glasses will be available for shipment starting October 17, priced at $299. These glasses will feature a new Meta AI assistant and the ability to live stream what the wearer sees directly to Facebook and Instagram, an enhancement compared to the previous generation’s photo-capturing capability.

The Meta Connect conference, where these announcements were made, represents Meta’s most significant event of the year and is the company’s first in-person conference since the onset of the pandemic.

Zuckerberg also revealed that the latest Quest mixed-reality headset will ship on October 10, introducing Meta’s first consumer-facing generative AI products. This includes a chatbot called Meta AI, capable of generating text responses and photo-realistic images.

Zuckerberg commented, “Sometimes we innovate by releasing something that’s never been seen. But sometimes we innovate by taking something awesome but super expensive and making it affordable for everyone or even free.”

Meta AI’s progress
Meta AI will be integrated into the smart glasses as an assistant, with a beta rollout beginning in the United States. A software update planned for next year will empower the assistant to identify objects and locations and provide language translation capabilities.

Meta developed Meta AI using a custom model based on the potent Llama 2 large language model, which the company made available for commercial use in July. The chatbot will access real-time information through a partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Additionally, Meta announced that it is developing a platform that will allow developers and individuals to create their own custom AI bots. These bots will have profiles on Instagram and Facebook and eventually appear as avatars in the metaverse. To demonstrate the tool’s capabilities, Meta created a set of 28 chatbots with distinct personalities modeled after celebrities like Charli D’Amelio, Snoop Dogg, and Tom Brady.

These announcements are geared toward enhancing existing applications and devices rather than creating new advertising opportunities or revenue streams. As Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, noted, “I don’t see monetization of AI products happening for Meta for quite some time, and I think it will end up being more indirect. They seem more interested in helping develop a platform that other developers will use.”

Zuckerberg announced that Xbox cloud gaming would be available on Quest in December.

The Quest 3 headset, introduced during the summer, is priced at $500. It features the same mixed-reality technology as Meta’s pricier Quest Pro device. It debuted last year and provides users with a video feed of the natural world around them.

Pacifying investors
These announcements reflect Zuckerberg’s strategy in navigating the shift in investor interest from augmented and virtual reality to artificial intelligence this year. The stakes were high for this event, as investors criticized the parent company of Facebook and Instagram last year for heavy spending on the metaverse, leading to significant staff layoffs as Zuckerberg pursued his vision.

Developers are keen to explore the potential applications for Meta’s latest hardware devices, while investors are looking for signs that the company’s investment may eventually pay off, especially given the more than $40 billion in losses since 2021.

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