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Meta chief lays out long-term AI plan

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has reported a first-quarter total revenue of $36.5bn, up 27%.

The firm said it was committed to ensuring long-term investments in artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality.

“We’ve historically seen a lot of volatility in our stock during this phase of our product playbook – where we’re investing in scaling a new product but aren’t yet monetising it,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We saw this with Reels, Stories, as News Feed transitioned to mobile and more. I also expect to see a multi-year investment cycle before we’ve fully scaled Meta AI, business AI and more into the profitable services.”

During the earnings call, the company’s chief financial officer, Susan Li, said the cost of revenue increased 9%. The higher infrastructure costs related to investments in AI were partially offset by what she described as “lapping Reality Labs inventory-related valuation adjustments”.

Reality Lab is the company’s augmented reality and metaverse initiative. This division posted an operating loss of $3.8bn, with revenue at $440m, up 30%, driven by Quest headset sales. 

Looking at how the firm has broadened its AI capabilities, Li said investments in developing advanced recommendation systems were driving incremental engagement on the company’s platforms. “People are finding added value by discovering content from accounts they’re not connected to,” she said. “The level of recommended content in our apps has scaled as we’ve improved these systems, and we see further opportunity to increase the relevance and personalisation of recommendations as we advance our models.”

Li added that Meta was also introducing deeper integrations of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) into its apps in the US and 12 other countries. “Along with using Meta, AI within our chat surfaces, people will now be able to use Meta AI in search within our apps, as well as Feed and Groups on Facebook,” she said. “We expect these integrations will complement our social discovery strategy as our recommendation systems help people to discover and explore their interests while Meta AI enables them to dive deeper on topics they’re interested in.”

Mirroring Zuckerberg’s comments, Li said: “Investing to build these new scaled experiences in our apps has been a very good long-term investment for us and for investors who have stuck with us. And the initial signs are quite positive here, too. But building the leading AI will also be a larger undertaking than the other experiences we’ve added to our apps, and this is likely going to take several years.”

Among the areas Meta is considering in terms of boosting AI-related revenue include scaling business messaging, introducing ads or paid content into AI interactions and charging people to use what he called “bigger AI models and access to more compute”.

Expanding on the business messaging concept, Li said the longer-term opportunity for Meta was to provide business AI. “We have been testing the ability for businesses to set up AIs for business messaging that represent them in chats with customers, starting by supporting shopping use cases such as responding to people asking for more information on a product or its availability,” she said. “This is very, very early. We’ve been testing this with a handful of businesses on Messenger and WhatsApp and we’re hearing good feedback.”

According to Li, businesses that have piloted the GenAI-based service said it saved them significant time. “Consumers noted more timely response times,” she said.

Commenting on the company’s long-term investment plans in AI, Forrester’s vice-president research director Mike Proulx said: “There’s no doubt that Meta is all-in on AI, but to achieve its vision, the company has to make big investments in infrastructure. Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘heads up’ was reminiscent of what he once said about the metaverse, and that didn’t exactly go so well.

“But this is different from Meta’s metaverse gamble because AI has real and practical use cases now. The question remains whether Meta can contend in the AI race while maintaining a strong financial position. To do this, expect to see more ‘metaverse’ resources diverted from Reality Labs to Meta’s AI initiatives.”

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