Facebook pivoted to the metaverse. Now she wants to show off her artificial intelligence.

In the past month, internal chatter about Meta’s investments in artificial intelligence has reached such a fever pitch that some employees have begun to wonder if the company is taking a direction away from virtual reality.

During a company-wide meeting in April with top executives, employees voted on a question on the topic: Do We Still Care About Metaverse? The workers were told the answer was yes.

It was noticeable to ask meta workers. It’s been less than two years since Mark Zuckerberg renamed the company he founded Facebook to Meta, wading its future into the immersive digital realms called the “metaverse”.

Now, the CEO of Meta is trying it out Showcasing the social media giant as a serious player in artificial intelligence, the arms race to lead the burgeoning technology grips Silicon Valley. As Microsoft, Google, and a string of startups push chatbots and other cool innovations with generative AI, a form of technology that can produce original, human-like content, Meta appears to be playing catch-up.

Two generative AI projects, including Galatica, a large-language model for synthesizing scientific research, and the multipurpose chatbot BlenderBot 3, faced negative publicity when the models spouted inaccurate and hateful rhetoric. The company quickly put Galatica’s public demo on hold while BlenderBot failed to gain much traction. Since then, the company has promoted more worldly innovations, including advertising tools.

Zuckerberg endorsed artificial intelligence as the driving force behind Meta’s revenue growth last quarter, after nearly a year of dismal financial performance.

“Our work in artificial intelligence is driving good results across our apps and businesses,” Zuckerberg said in a statement last month at the time of the earnings release.

Meta has begun cutting 10,000 workers in its second round of layoffs

The Meta CEO has vehemently denied that his newfound interest in AI indicates the company is less committed to its bigger bet. Indeed, Zuckerberg has argued that AI is the foundation for Metaverse, and will be a critical tool for creating more dynamic and accessible virtual reality experiences. For example, less tech-savvy users will be able to use generative AI to create their own new worlds in VR-powered Meta apps.

But both Wall Street and industry will be watching as Zuckerberg prioritizes investing in both technologies as he seeks to boost the company’s financial performance and employee morale.

“It’s critical that Meta define the strategy, how they’re going to monetize it, and flex their muscle to show that they’re also a major player in AI,” said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. They must demonstrate that “they are not sitting at the children’s table with Microsoft, Google and Apple at the adult table”.

The rhetoric around artificial intelligence has confused some employees and investors about the company’s core focus, as a series of news articles and analysts ponder whether the metaverse is dead and Zuckerberg walk away from his multibillion-dollar investment.

Some workers have expressed frustration that the company’s direction is complex, as it backs artificial intelligence while cutting jobs and other projects, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak on inside matters. Other workers scrambled to get an internal alert for AI-related jobs, a way to position themselves safely on the company’s next big bet, one of the people said.

How Mark Zuckerberg broke the meta workforce

On Thursday, the company announced the launch of the AI ​​Sandbox, which enables marketers to use artificial intelligence to create more textual and visual choices for ads. Meta executives said the product would help marketers more effectively target their ads to different types of consumers, by experimenting with very subtle changes to copy, images, and backgrounds.

For example, an ad may gain more traction with women under 35 if the company’s logo is depicted on top of a cityscape with blurry lights instead of a snowy mountain. Meta also announced Meta Lattice, a new AI-based model to improve the performance of its ads on its networks.

But these products are far more modest than those their competitors have been championing in recent months. On Wednesday, Google announced that it would start answering some search queries directly by generating its own results, drawing from sources around the web, rather than linking and abstracting from other websites as it did two decades ago.

This strategic shift could transform users’ online experience while upending publishers and content creators who rely on Google for traffic. Google’s announcement follows pressure from investors urging the company to catch up with Microsoft, which has already integrated ChatGPT into its search engine, Bing.

Google is changing the way you search with artificial intelligence. The web can turn over.

Meta appears to be taking a more conservative path.

In February, the company announced that it was forming a new “turbocharged” product line for its use of generative AI. The group, led by former Apple CEO Ahmed El-Dahl, aims to bring together key teams from research and consumer-focused groups to create new products, according to the company. Zuckerberg said he expects to build AI-powered chat experiences into WhatsApp and Messenger as well as innovations in business messaging and customer support.

On the search front, Meta has long been a player in AI. The company’s lab is notable for making much of its research public in the industry. Research projects include technology that uses artificial intelligence to animate children’s drawings, decode speech from images of brain activity, and enable real-time translation of most languages.

Some believe that Meta’s new focus on artificial intelligence can help overcome threats to its ad-driven business model. Increased competition in the social media market from startups like TikTok and new privacy rules from Apple have hurt the digital advertising market.

Meta begins a new round of job cuts among highly skilled employees

Zuckerberg credited artificial intelligence last month with pushing people to spend more time on Instagram, where the company promotes short social videos called Reels. He reminded investors during the earnings call that artificial intelligence underpins the way the company recommends content to users, delivers ads to consumers and weeds out offensive and rule-breaking content — systems that the company has been “working on for many, many years.”

But Meta executives in recent weeks have sought to fend off claims that their investment strategy has changed dramatically.

“A narrative has developed that somehow we’re moving away from focus on eye vision, so I just want to say up front that this is inaccurate,” Zuckerberg said last month. “We’ve focused on both AI and Metaverse for years now, and we’ll continue to focus on both.”

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