Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that he isn’t changing the company’s name to include the letters A.I. anytime soon.
During Meta’s quarterly earnings conference call on Wednesday, Zuckerberg took aim at recent headlines that suggested the company is abandoning its ambitions to create a digital world, or “metaverse,” so that it could focus instead on the A.I. craze sweeping over Silicon Valley.
“A narrative has developed that we’re somehow moving away from focusing on the metaverse division. So I just want to say upfront that that’s not accurate,” Zuckerberg said. “We’ve been focusing on both A.I. and the metaverse for years now, and we will continue to focus on both.”
The 38-year-old CEO and Facebook founder fired off a series of figures and metrics showing progress in the metaverse: More than 1 million Meta avatars have been created; half of the people who use the company’s Quest VR headset every day spend more than one hour inside its virtual realm.
And in his effort to show that artificial intelligence and the metaverse are both part of the same broader corporate strategy, Zuckerberg injected a new term into the discussion: “A.I. agents.”
“I think there’s an opportunity to introduce A.I. agents to billions of people,” Zuckerberg said, in the first of several instances in which he invoked these mysterious new beings on Wednesday. (The term “A.I. agent” was not mentioned a single time during any of the company’s 2022 earnings calls).
Who—or what—these soon-to-be-unleashed “agents” are is still open to the imagination, though Zuckerberg gave some clues. A.I. agents will be “meaningful and useful” to all sorts of people, he said, whether you’re a Facebook user, a creator, or a business. They will handle customer support for businesses in apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, for example, similar to the chatbots the company developed in 2016. But these agents will also have shapes and bodies—at least, in the virtual world.
“Embodying A.I. agents will take advantage of the deep investment we’ve made in avatars over the last several years,” Zuckerberg noted at another point.
Meta’s stock was up 12% in extended trading on Wednesday, following the company’s better-than-expected first quarter financial results, and its plans to reduce operating expenses. Zuckerberg has vowed that 2023 would be the “year of efficiency,” as Meta has cut 10,000 employees, or 13% of the company, in a series of layoffs.
Since changing its name from Facebook to Meta in October 2021, the company has had to fend off sharp criticism from investors. Brad Gerstner, the CEO of investing firm Altimeter Capital and a Meta shareholder, wrote in October 2022 that Meta had to “get fit and focused,” which would require aggressive cuts to employee-related expenses, and scaling back its financial commitments in the metaverse space.
A recent Reuters report said that former Facebook board member Peter Thiel warned Zuckerberg and other executives that the metaverse effort was a distraction and causing the company to cede ground to rival TikTok in the core social media market.
A Wall Street Journal report in March noted that Meta has spent billions building Zuckerberg’s metaverse but users and business have so far not embraced it. Perhaps that will change when the A.I. agents arrive on the scene.
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