The Metaverse, that immersive virtual world where Meta (née Facebook) imagines we'll work, play, and interact with friends and family is also where we may someday build entire worlds with nothing but our voice.
During an online AI development update delivered, in part, by Meta/Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday (February 23), the company offered a glimpse of Builder Bot, an AI concept that allows the user to build entire virtual experiences using their voice.
Standing in what looked like a stripped-down version of Facebook's Horizon Worlds' Metaverse, Zuckerberg's and a co-worker's avatars asked a virtual bot to add an island, some furniture, clouds, a catamaran, and even a boombox that could pay real music to the environment. In the demonstration, the command phrasing was natural and the 3D virtual imagery appeared instantly, though it did look a bit like the graphics you'd find in Nintendo's Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The development of Builder Bot is part of a larger AI initiative called Project CAIRaeoke, which is an end-to-end neural model for building on-device assistance.
Zuckerberg explained that current technology is not yet equipped to help us explore an immersive version of the internet that will ultimately live in the Metaverse. While that will require updates across a whole range of hardware and software, Meta believes AI is the key to unlocking advancement that will lead to, as Zukerberg put it, "a new generation of assistants that will help us explore new worlds".
“When we’re wearing [smart] Glasses, it will be the first time an AI system will be able to see the world from our perspective,” he added. A key goal here is for the AI they're developing to see as we do and, more importantly, learn about the world as we do, as well.
It's unclear if Builder Bot will ever become a true part of the burgeoning Metaverse, but its skill with real-time language processing and understanding how parts of the environment should go together is clearly informed by the work Meta is doing.
Zuckerberg outlined a handful of other related AI projects, all of which will eventually feed into a Metaverse that can be accessed and used by anyone in the world.
These include "No Language Left Behind," which, unlike traditional translation that often uses English as a mid-translation point, can translate languages directly from the source to the translation language. There's also the very Star Trek-like "Universal Speech Translator", which would provide instantaneous speech-to-speech translation across all languages, including spoken languages.
“AI is going to deliver that in our lifetimes,” said Zuckerberg.
Meta is also investing heavily in self-supervised learning (SSL) to build human-like cognition into AI systems. Instead of training with tons of images to help the AI identify patterns, the system is fed raw data and then asked to predict the missing parts. Eventually, the AI learns how to build abstract representations.
An AI that can understand abstraction could complete an image just from a few pieces of visual information, or generate the next frame of a video it's never seen. It could also build a visually pleasing virtual world with only your words to guide it.
For those full-on freaked out by Meta's Metaverse ambitions, Zuckerberg said that the company is building the Metaverse for everyone and they are "committed to build openly and responsibly" while protecting privacy and preventing harm.
It's unlikely anyone will take his word for it, but we look forward to watching the Metaverse's development.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.