Facebook Metaverse To Use Tech From Former Military Contractor

Facebook is to build its metaverse using artificial intelligence technology from a firm with a long history of US military and defence contracts.

The company, recently renamed Meta Platforms, quietly acquired synthetic data start-up AI.Reveries in August, and folded it into its Reality Labs division that is part of the metaverse effort.

The “metaverse” refers to virtual reality and augmented reality projects by Facebook and others that aim to create immersive experiences, often involving wearable technology such as Facebook’s Oculus headsets.

The technology requires vast amounts of data that can be used to train the AI algorithms involved, and increasingly this can be supplied in the form of “synthetic data”, supplied by companies such as AI.Reveries, rather than data taken from the real world.

Synthetic data

The market for synthetic data has exploded during the pandemic, and with increased restrictions on how firms can use data acquired from real people.

In an apparent nod to the HBO programme Westworld, which features an environment populated by robots, Meta acquired the start-up through a holding company called Dolores Acquisition Sub, Inc., named after a character in the show.

AI.Reverie’s former chief executive, now an engineering manager at Meta, described the company as creating a “virtually endless supply of annotated images and videos to accelerate computer vision and machine learning by lowering the cost of training”.

The New York City-based start up, founded in 2017, in January signed a three-year contract with the US Air Force to provide services worth up to $950 million (£710m) to develop a battle management system and improve its command-and-control systems using AI.

The contract was terminated in August ahead of the Meta acquistion.

Military contracts

In May of last year the start-up received a contract to improve intelligence-gathering for the US Department of Defence, including the Army and Air Force, and in July 2020 received a contract from the USAF to improve navigation capabilities in difficult terrains using synthetic training data.

The start-up said its AI product would support the 7th Bomb Wing, part of a command unit in the USAF that conducts nuclear deterrence and global strike operations.

Meta said it would not be involved with future defence or military AI development.

Companies such as Meta, Microsoft, Apple and Nvidia are competing for “multiverse” applications, although the technology remains in its infancy.

Last month Nvidia announced a synthetic data engine to create realistic autonomous vehicles and robots that can be trained in virtual worlds before being released in the outside world.

The company demonstrated that virtual data could be used to train robots to pick up objects like cans of soup, a mustard bottle and a box of Cheez-Its in the real world.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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