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Facebook and Google battle for supremacy in the new Matrix

Planetary connectivity, natural interfaces and immersive experiences. These are the three key areas Facebook is focusing on this year. A social media company with a market capitalisation in excess of $300 billion that is no
longer pursuing social media?

Has the superpower embarked on its endgame? One thing is certain, in prioritising these three areas Facebook is taking the first steps towards influencing human evolution. For we are now slowly transitioning from the ‘connected age’ to what is being called the ‘immersive age’: an era in which we no longer simply engage with the virtual world through devices such as smartphones and wearables, but actually exist in the virtual world. Initially this will involve the use of display devices such as virtual reality helmets, but before long there will be workable solutions for the masses. And Facebook is running for president.

However there is a competitor on the horizon in the form of Google, an all-knowing and intelligent opponent. The alpha and beta in an inevitable Clash of the Titans. Let’s examine the situation more closely.

Planetary Connectivity

Facebook is keen to make internet available to everyone in the farthest reaches of the planet, through its internet.org initiative among other things. This will enable more rapid economic development in regions that are not readily accessible. Facebook is doing this with a fleet of drones known as Aquila unmanned aircraft, which provide free basic internet from a great height.

However, Google also regards this as a key area. Its R&D facility X has set up Project Loon to make internet access available to two-thirds of the world’s population, not with aircraft, but through a network of balloons. The internet can then also be used to provide the most effective post-disaster aid.

Because – and this is an important point – the immersive age will only be a reality when everyone is online. Then and only then can the actual world be replaced with a virtual version.

Natural interfaces

Facebook is fully committed to developing M, the new virtual assistant within the Facebook Messenger platform. The important difference is, M is more intelligent. You can talk to it and it can carry out complex tasks, such as booking a weekend away.

However, having already realised back in 2012 that its search engine was not as efficient on mobile devices, Google has also developed an intelligent personal assistant: Google Now, which, to make it more useful, was recently integrated with Google Maps. Now, at the appropriate moment, Maps inquires whether you want to go home or to the gym.

For in an immersive age distances and physical constraints are irrelevant. Intelligent personal assistants will ensure that our requirements are met. Hence Artificial Intelligence plays a crucial role in enabling the virtual world to function.

Immersive Experiences

To create immersive experiences Facebook is pouring serious cash into virtual reality. It paid $1.5 billion for Oculus VR – a massive amount of money for a company still in its development phase – and recently launched 360° video within the Facebook timeline to test VR on the masses. But Google was there first with Google Glass. Though the head-mounted display has since been withdrawn, it was clearly a valuable exercise. Google’s Project Tango technology now enables mobile devices to detect their position in relation to a 3D environment so they see the world the way we see it.

For the immersive age is all about being able to manipulate the human senses. Successful virtual reality solutions have already been developed for the senses of sight and hearing. Combine these with devices that can orient themselves in today’s world and you find yourself immersed in a virtual world that can no longer be distinguished from the real world.

So the Matrix will be a reality?

Developments in the areas of planetary connectivity, natural interfaces, and immersive experiences all propel us towards the immersive age: a world that Neo would be envious of. No need to panic if the CTO at Facebook has taken social media off the agenda. Facebook and Google are engaged in an endgame with the fate of humanity as the stake.

Where do you stand in relation to all of this? Are you prepared to surrender control of your life to Google and Facebook? To all of the smartphones and new gadgets? With our personal data as the new gold? We are entering a virtual world with self driving-cars and intelligent robots. A world in which what we do and don’t see and hear is decided for us. But, hang on a moment… aren’t we already there?

‘You take the blue pill, the story ends … you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.’

Are you ready for that?

And, oh yes, there’s also the question of who will win? Facebook has developed an inconceivably large network of knowledge and people (Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram), while Google understands data better than anyone else and has been hard at work within Google X for years. Its parent company Alphabet will overtake Apple as the most valuable company in the world this year. This is a measure of Google’s influence and impact on today’s world.

So I would conclude that Facebook is the winner when it comes to knowledge of human soft skills. But when it comes to inordinately intelligent and extremely complex systems, I think Google has what it takes to construct the Matrix. Therefore, as a parting thought on this particular arms race, maybe Google will build the Matrix and Facebook will give it colour.

This article has been published in Dutch on Emerce