Creepy or nostalgic? Facebook wants to turn photos from your childhood into 3D memories you can explore in virtual reality

Facebook ended its F8 conference with a rather strange Proustian reverie; demonstrating a nascent AI technique for recreating memories in virtual reality.

Using computing vision, photogrammetry and machine-learning algorithms, the experimental technique takes your old photographs, from albums on the site, and converts them from 2D images to 3D “spaces”.

Instead of realistic simulations, these recreations are made up of spatial point clouds. Whilst this is likely due to the practical limitations of rendering a whole living room from a handful of 2D images, it also lends the “VR memories” an impressionistic haze.

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Facebook’s head of social VR,  Rachel Franklin, told the audience that the feature is like “a Facebook album that has come to life”, with the intention being that a user can strap on a VR headset – like Facebook’s own Oculus Go –  and delve into Facebook’s version of your childhood home. Scattered in this environment are thumbnails of photos and videos that can be watched ‘in-situ’, as it were.

“We think in the future, people may be able to use technology like this to revisit moments and places that are important to them, with people they care about,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.facebook_memories_2

It isn’t at all clear how many images are needed for Facebook to create a virtual environment, or how effective these spaces will be beyond the confines of a tightly controlled demo.

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Public spaces with plenty of images should be easy to pull together into something for VR, but I’m not sure how effective a few blurry photos of a grotty nightclub will be in recreating my old student union, say. Then again, Facebook is likely already able to do a pretty good job of filling in the gaps of your childhood based on its knowledge of your interests, friends’ interests, political leanings, etc.

Facebook is clear the current iteration of ‘VR memories’ is a prototype, but if it manages to hone it into something workable the company will also need to contend with how it could be misused – from creepy recreations of your ex’s bedroom to VR training grounds for bank heists. Maybe not the latter.

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