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In Facebook’s future, human beings will become digital interfaces

In addition to some clever, if not gimmicky announcements coming out of this year’s F8, Facebook has laid down the outline of its envisaged future – and on the whole it’s pretty awe-inspiring.

The perception that Facebook is a consumer app has shifted. The company has emerged not only as a powerful business tool, but as a serious innovation hub.

F8 is Facebook’s almost-annual developer conference – two days where Facebook discusses developments, plans, and the company’s roadmap. And as predicted, Facebook Messenger held a key focus, with augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) plans truly bringing science fiction into the realms of reality.

Telepathy or tech?

Typing through telepathy and healing through your skin? You’d be forgiven for thinking we are talking about a medical or neuroscientific conference, yet F8 is pushing the boundary of social in ways we didn’t think possible.

At my bi-annual visits to FB headquarters I was never allowed into Building 8. The tightly-under-wraps R&D was revealed at this year’s conference, when Facebook allowed a glimpse into its envisioned future.

Facebook is looking for ways to let you type 100 words per minute – all in the interests of sharing. The organisation is well aware that as people connect more and more over virtual networks, the need for AR and VR innovation is becoming urgent. At present, however, we are largely reliant on the interfacing via the QWERTY keyboard – a quite brilliant innovation when it first made its appearance back in 1872. Times have changed, and Facebook believes we’re overdue for an upgrade.

The development in Building 8 of “The Brain Click” and “Reverse Braille” technology will allow humans to interface directly with technology – where skin can tell a digital interface what is happening inside “the human being”, and all this without brain implants.

While The Brain Click isn’t quite ready to ship just yet, AR is, and that’s due to the proliferation of the mobile phone – more particularly, the camera.

Business impact

Facebook’s win-win engagement model was developed by allowing brands to be part of the user’s experience in a relevant and meaningful way. This model extends to AR and VR development. The camera is the new lens into reality. The camera will allow a user to see an overlay on reality.

For example, imagine shopping and scanning your phone over a product to see what friends think about the product? Brands can supply, in real time, a library (if needed) of additional information. This creates an opportunity for brands to create relevant, meaningful engagement with a user who is already engaging with the brand. The world of AR opens this and countless other opportunities for brands.

While brain-typing is likely to need another five to 10 years in Building 8, AR and VR are here, and are fast becoming mainstream technology. Brands need to move of these technologies now.

Messenger takes centre stage

In 2015, Facebook announced that it was opening Messenger up to developers. This would mean that businesses could start launching bespoke features into the app. In 2016 bots for Messenger was launched, and was again opened to developers through API.

This means that businesses can take full advantage of the base offerings, and build them up with a deep understanding of, and sensitivity to, not only the brand, but their audience.

This year, Facebook’s focus has been increasing the depth of bots and ploughing more resources into artificial intelligence (AI) research.

Facebook Messenger boasts, according to David Marcus, Facebook vice president of messaging products, 1.2-billion monthly users. Additionally, in roughly the year since launch, there are 100 000 active bots on the platform.

This is a sea change for business, on many levels. Brands engage using all touch points in the spectrum, maximising them according to individual KPIs. But Messenger is a brand new touch point that will revolutionise the brand’s relationship with the customer.

Having backed its horse, Facebook knows well that for something to work, end-user uptake is the most defining factor. To this end, Facebook has announced additional features that the company hopes will secure the application as the number one go-to. Transforming the application from a tool to chat to friends into a place where you go to do everything appears to be Facebook’s strategy, and it’s powered by AI bots.

And in this way, users can not only order food, but book flights, buy and share music, and send money. Facebook is ensuring that users will find no need to exit the app for practically anything.

The business opportunity

The business opportunity here is easy to imagine, but the scope of it will be hard to predict at this point. The famous “You are only limited by your own imagination” comes to mind when considering the business possibilities of Messenger Platform 2.0. For immediate insight into the specific announcements, you can visit Facebook for Developers.

There are already some brilliant innovations in the market taking full advantage of the opportunity. But for organisations hoping to build their businesses on social, the opportunity to fully explore this new touch point is open, and filling quickly.