The predictions of Facebook’s demise might be a bit premature.
The truth is that this social network will evolve over the next 15 years into something we barely recognize today. One of the most prominent companies in Big Tech isn’t going to slide into oblivion anytime soon, with around 3 billion users and a parent company (now called Meta) with vast cash reserves.
Despite all of the rampant and widespread misinformation, the “pipeline” mentality meant to keep us hooked on the apps, and a revenue-obsessed corporate culture that seems to side more with advertisers than users, Facebook is a tech monolith.
Yet, even the largest companies in the world have to keep evolving. The biggest tech giants of our age such as Apple, HP, and IBM all went through a pivot at one point. Apple is now more well-known for the iPhone than the Mac computer, and both IBM and HP evolved into enterprise behemoths eventually.
Facebook will also pivot, and we might not even recognize what the social network looks like by 2035.
The biggest change is that social media is going to become a virtual personification of real life — think shopping malls, concert halls, and “virtual humans” that look exactly like us. Here’s what that might look like over the next decade and a half
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For starters, we’ll all start living a true second life (as if we don’t already, since the person we portray on social media is not the real person). We share our best moments, and that adds up to a well-rounded person without any defects.
Eventually, your online avatar will take on (virtual) life and limb, something similar to a gaming avatar. Think of this “second you” as someone who exists in a virtual world, a digital being who can talk, react, discuss, and even argue on your behalf.
To the extent that your online presence is a representation of who you are, this digital avatar will have a specific look, personality, and tone based on algorithms that analyze your online activity, the rich history of every social media post and comment you’ve ever done since Facebook started.
Artificial intelligence will construct your avatar according to your shopping preferences, web visits, and other criteria you select, such as how you look and talk. The avatar will look remarkably human such that no one will even notice it’s a digital version. The “second you” will seem real to almost everyone.
In this future version of Facebook, this avatar will be able to attend meetings for you, join a debate about social issues, buy and sell goods, and even do a job interview for you. Samsung is already working on “artificial humans” who look ultra-realistic so the next step is to have these avatars fill in for you in an online world and then, eventually, join a future version of Facebook. The “second you” on social media will be so realistic that you might have to copyright yourself (and include a fine-print disclaimer explaining how this “person” is not actually, really you).
Of course, part of this digital future is that we’ll be wearing headsets or interacting in a virtual reality studio in our homes (something that doesn’t require goggles). The “new you” will be able to exist in the social network even when you’re asleep, and during your waking hours, your avatar will be able to join other avatars to go shopping, visit a new city, attend a social gathering or concert, or just hang out with other avatars.
The AI will allow you to participate only if you want to; for example, you could send the avatar shopping at a virtual mall and even try on virtual clothes for you, selecting the ones that fit the best while you are doing something else. If you purchase the new items, the real products will ship to your physical address. It’s similar to the old Second Life app or The Sims but driven by powerful AI, with a perfect replica of you (or who you want to be), existing at all times and interacting socially at your behest.
Imagine deploying your avatar into a chat group, representing your views based on AI that knows how you have interacted with others over the previous decades. Your avatar could discuss topics, debate issues, or even defend your views, and then at the end of the day, you could ask your avatar to “debrief” you on the previous activities and discoveries. Your avatar could attend Facebook “college” and learn for you, go on business trips and conferences — all in an AI-powered virtual world.
If this all sounds like a video game, that’s no coincidence. Virtual reality, digital avatars, online environments, and ultra-realistic simulations will all converge in the next 15 years to create a new social network that relies even more on AI than what we know today. Now we have to decide if that’s a world we want to live in.