Facebook – Hiring Spree for Virtual Reality and Next-Generation Tech

Facebook launched a hiring spree and aims to add nearly 1,200 new employees, 14 percent of its workforce, in the outgrowth of aggressive investments that executives have said will define the coming year, Reuters reports. The job listings on the company’s website hint at ambitious projects focused on virtual reality goggles, drones, and data centers.

Facebook currently has more than 400 employees in Seattle, and is looking for a larger site close to the center of the city that could hold as many as 2,000 people.

Oculus Rift, the maker of virtual reality headsets that Facebook acquired in a $2 billion deal last year, is among the key areas slated for growth, with 54 jobs listed on its website.

The Oculus Rift is not yet available to consumers, but developers and reviewers describe virtual experiences that are nothing short of world-changing. When you put the headset on, you step into an immersive VR world where you are surrounded by computer-generated scenery and sound. Plenty of immersive video games already exist in which you can move around entire cities and interact with hundreds of characters. The Oculus interface is powerful enough to persuade the user to suspend disbelief and accept the virtual world as real. If the virtual world is well designed, users feel a powerful sense of “being there.”

Also read: 2015 – Virtual Reality Gets Real

Facebook’s Vision and Strategy

Oculus RiftThe next project of Second Life creator Philip Rosedale, the next-generation VR platform High Fidelity, currently in alpha testing, will support the Oculus Rift. The social virtual world Second Life went through a phase of massive growth and popularity in 2005-2009 but didn’t live up to initial expectations.

However, leading business and technology experts are betting that more immersive VR worlds will become hugely popular, and radically change gaming, commerce, education, sports, narrative, sex, and even aging and sense of self. If virtual reality takes off for entertainment, gaming, communications, education or computing, Facebook could be at the center of the new platform with Oculus.

What exactly Facebook plans to use VR for is not very clear, and the idea of a 3D extension of today’s Facebook doesn’t seem too appealing. Oculus Rift creator Palmer Lucker said in a recent interview with The Guardian:

Looking at a larger than life News Feed or someone’s photos in VR isn’t interesting. It needs to be new experience. I don’t think it’s going to be Facebook the social network in VR, but people are narcissists and they want people to see what they think are their amazing lives.

I think the last part of Luckey’s observation – that people are narcissists and want to be seen and admired – is of key importance, and narcissism is one of the main reasons for the spectacular success of Facebook. Second Life itself is still very addictive to a small demographics – those who identify with their avatar more than with their brickspace self. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will be able to successfully integrate VR in its core operations and value proposition.

Augmented Reality (AR) – overlaying the real world with virtual annotations delivered via VR headsets or Google Glass-like devices – is another option for Facebook. AR doesn’t place the user in a game world but enhances the real world with synthetic imagery, from simple text and icons used for navigation and directions to sophisticated interactive 3D features. Recent acquisitions seem to indicate that Facebook’s Oculus strategy may be focused on AR instead of virtual worlds.

Facebook’s ambitious effort to build its own satellites and drones capable of delivering Internet service to remote regions of the world is another important area for hiring: the program has Facebook searching for specialists in areas such as avionics, radio frequency communications, and thermal engineering.

In related news, Facebook is opening up many of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools it uses to drive its online services and making them available as open source software.

Images from Facebook, Stefano Tinti and Shutterstock.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.