How Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse Gamble Backfired

Less than two years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bet on the Metaverse. Zuckerberg believed his virtual reality world was the future. Now, with the rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), he seems to have made a catastrophic mistake. The metaverse isn’t dead yet – but its future is far from bright.

Having recently taken a trip to the metaverse, I can’t say I’m surprised that Zuckerberg’s pet project hasn’t caught on. In Meta’s shiny new offices in London’s King’s Cross, we had big black headsets strapped over our eyes. Thanks to the wonders of meta-technology, we were soon transferred from our physical meeting room to a virtual one. Our faces suddenly seemed strange to us and we had no legs. Despite this inconvenience, the meeting went as planned and we were taken on a tour of our new 3D environment – complete with interactive whiteboards, instant teleportation through the room, and swappable panoramic views through the windows.

It was all great fun. But when I went home, I wondered what the point of it was. Couldn’t this meeting have just taken place via e-mail?

However, that hasn’t stopped the social media giant from pumping tons of money into its big project

Many people and many companies seem to be wondering the same thing. Few have publicly stated that they plan to launch Horizon Workplace, Meta’s virtual office meeting app; Horizon Worlds, his virtual social network, allegedly In the past year, the user base has dropped from 300,000 to under 200,000.

Meta states that 70 percent of companies are planning to increase their spending on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. But for now, the reality is that the metaverse has failed to take off.

When I interviewed a Meta board member last year, she told me that one of the benefits of the metaverse is that it offers “a lot of optionality.”

“If I want to show up like a rabbit tomorrow, I can show up like a rabbit,” she said.

And yet, to Meta’s amazement, even the prospect of dressing up as a pet at work hasn’t gotten companies interested in the tech-packed goggles so far. But that hasn’t stopped the social media giant from pouring vast amounts of money into its big project in an increasingly desperate attempt to grow it into a business.

Meta’s Reality Labs division, which develops its Metaverse technologies, made a staggering $25 billion (£20 billion) loss between 2021 and 2022, on sales of just over $4 billion (3, 2 billion pounds). To put that in perspective, the amounts lost are roughly equivalent to the combined market caps of rivals Snap and Pinterest, or roughly twice the annual budget of the UK Department of Justice.

While Zuckerberg was pouring money into his pet project, other big tech companies were quietly working on a very different technology: AI. OpenAI, now owned by Microsoft, introduced ChatGPT late last year and it didn’t take long for the technology to take off.

Within a few months, users of the service reached over a billion; Their imaginations were stimulated by the tremendous possibilities that the new technology could bring, but also by the limitless boring work tasks that it would potentially destroy.

These days, I rarely have a conversation with a company’s CEO without them disclosing their plans to develop ChatGPT-inspired tools. Plans for the metaverse? Not as much.

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For many, Meta’s bet on the virtual world now seems like a major misstep. The company’s share price has fallen 30 percent in the past two years and more than 20,000 employees have been laid off in recent months, including several hundred in London. Zuckerberg told employees last November, “This is a sad moment and there is no escaping it. I got it wrong and I take responsibility.”

However, don’t forget Zuckerberg. The man has become a victim of his own success. Through his three social media pages Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp he was able to reach the majority of people in the world. There are few ways to expand these further, and starting a fourth from scratch could end up exploiting user activity on the other three. So Zuck felt compelled to try something else.

Had Meta rolled out its technology in the first few weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, it might have been a success. But three years later, it’s a lot harder to sell for workers still recovering from Zoom fatigue. The AI ​​has arrived, it will stay, and it has already claimed the metaverse as its first victim.

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