His new virtual showcase, Builder Bot, should ring warning bells about Meta’s built-in aversion to beauty and its bleak implications for online life
Imagine you’re standing in an endless blank space, like the Construct in The Matrix, and Morpheus tells you that you’re allowed to load up anything you fancy, from clothes, to objects, to whole imagined environments. Where’s the first place you’d conjure up? Outer space? Your favourite fictional world? Soon, these kinds of adventures could become a reality, according to Mark Zuckerberg’s latest Meta project.
Titled Builder Bot, the “AI concept” will enable users to craft new surroundings by simply speaking them into existence. “It enables you to describe a world, and then it will generate aspects of that world for you,” Zuckerberg explains in a recent talk on “Building for the Metaverse with AI”.
However, a visual demo of the project shared alongside the talk makes it seem… less compelling. Actually, hellish. And, in large part, that’s down to the multi-billion dollar company’s complete lack of imagination (and taste).
Appearing as a floating, legless avatar in the promotional teaser, the Facebook founder finds himself facing the aforementioned decision: what brave new world will he visit to showcase his technology’s limitless potential? First, he dreams up… a park. Then, like Nicki Minaj – not the real one, but that sketchy, lifeless wax figure in Las Vegas – he declares: “Actually, let’s go to the beach.” He is a visionary.
What follows is a painstaking construction of a scene your mum might have pinned on the fridge after a particularly uninspired session with the coloured pencils. Zuck asks Builder Bot to bring in some clouds – “Huh, that’s all AI-generated,” he notes between voice commands – before adding an island just off the coast. His pal then jumps in and really gets the party started, throwing up some trees, a picnic table, a stereo, and some drinks.
The video finally fades out to the sound of the surf and “some tropical music”, while the pair contemplate how to ride an electric surfboard in VR (thankfully, excessive quantities of suncream aren’t required when the sun is just a cluster of pixels).
The whole demo is even more absurd when you remember that Zuckerberg regularly cracks the list of the top 10 richest people in the world, and practically owns his own private island already – why would you use groundbreaking technology to make a worse version of what you already have? Go and touch some actual grass.
Presumably, the technology behind the Builder Bot is actually quite interesting, but the aesthetic of Zuck’s utopia is so bland that it overshadows everything else, and instead the presentation becomes a horrible foreshadowing of our online future.
If Meta has its way, the showcase suggests, we’re still going to be trapped in the same old mundane environments, picking outfits from Meta’s godawful wardrobe, when the real world implodes and our brains are uploaded into the metaverse.
Perhaps the only hope for a future we actually want to look at – or where we can at least experience a basic level of joy – is in the artists who populate virtual worlds, and push back against tech companies’ deep-rooted aversion to beauty. Right now though, given Meta’s mission to homogenise every scrap of content on Facebook and Instagram, and its obsession with gaining a monopoly on the metaverse, things are (quite literally) looking bleak.