Once upon a time, a social media giant was led by a man who couldn’t resist chasing shiny objects. His name was Mark Zuckerberg, and in the land of Meta, he took it upon himself to singlehandedly bring forth the “future of the internet” with his grand, delusional vision of the Metaverse. But like Icarus, he flew too close to the sun, and now he’s frantically flapping his wings in pursuit of yet another glittering mirage — the artificial intelligence arms race.
Reality Labs, the division responsible for breathing life into the Metaverse, has racked up an astounding cumulative loss of nearly $24 billion between 2021 and 2022, with $13.7 billion haemorrhaging from the company’s coffers in the latter year alone. Zuckerberg’s misguided optimism was laid bare during Meta’s 2022 Q3 earnings call when he anticipated that Reality Labs’ operating losses in 2023 would “grow significantly year-over-year.” The market’s response was swift and brutal, with the company’s stock plummeting 18% in after-hours trading.
Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its misguided ambitions, Meta’s stock has slowly crawled its way back up. Not because of the Metaverse, mind you. It’s not as if those ludicrously expensive $1500 entry-point devices have suddenly become household must-haves or the public has warmed to spending their entire lives in a digital prison devoid of practicality or enjoyment. No, the recovery is thanks to Meta’s newfound “efficiency” — a euphemism for terminating countless jobs and the death knell for Zuckerberg’s Metaverse pipe dream.
Once the shiny new toy of the tech scene, the Metaverse has lost its lustre. Now, the in-crowd of tech innovators have turned their sights to A.I.’s potential. By emphasising the promise of A.I.’s incorporation into WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, Meta is desperately treading water.
But don’t worry! Our favourite tech magpie isn’t one to let a colossal failure dampen his spirits. In a recent update, Zuckerberg boasted, “I believe that we are working on some of the most transformative technology our industry has ever seen. Our single largest investment is in advancing A.I. and building it into every one of our products.” There you have it — Zuck’s latest shiny object is A.I., and he’s already jumping on the bandwagon with the same reckless abandon that characterised his Metaverse misadventure.
The cost of this A.I. arms race is astronomical. OpenAI, for example, spent a staggering $540 million in 2022 training ChatGPT, its highly popular A.I. chatbot. These funds were also used to poach top talent from competitor Google, which is developing its own A.I. chatbot, Bard. OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, has suggested that his company may become the “most capital-intensive startup in Silicon Valley history.” This ambitious trajectory is supported by Altman’s estimates that OpenAI could generate $200 million in revenue in 2023, $1 billion in 2024, and a significant leap from its 2022 revenue of $30 million.
As Meta dives headfirst into the A.I. arms race, we can’t help but question whether Zuckerberg has learned anything from his Metaverse debacle. Is he doomed to repeat the same mistakes, or will he finally strike gold in the uncharted waters of artificial intelligence?
With the stakes higher than ever, Zuckerberg and Meta’s newfound A.I. obsession must navigate a landscape rife with fierce competition and astronomical costs. The company’s fate now hinges on its ability to catch up to trailblazers like OpenAI and Google and innovate in ways that set them apart.
In the meantime, the Metaverse lies abandoned and forgotten, a monument to the dangers of chasing shiny objects and the pitfalls of hubris. As Zuckerberg pivots to A.I., we can only hope he has learned some valuable lessons from his Metaverse misstep — lest he and Meta become synonymous with a never-ending pursuit of the next big thing.
As the A.I. arms race heats up, will Zuckerberg emerge victorious, or will his insatiable appetite for shiny objects prove to be his undoing? The saga of Meta and its mercurial leader is far from over.