Meta at 20: From Social Media Giant to AI Metaverse Leader

As the company excels into its third decade, Meta continues to boast an ever-growing technology empire, advancing in responsible AI and the metaverse

Meta Platforms, doing business as Meta, turns twenty years old this month (4th February 2024).

Formerly known as Facebook, Inc., the American multinational technology organisation has successfully built an empire of social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Threads and Whatsapp, in addition to other services.

The conglomerate has experienced plenty of ebbs and flows, having operated for two decades. Even yesterday (2nd February 2024), it was reported that Meta stock has surged by more than 15%, adding more than US$140bn to its valuation.

From ground-breaking responsible AI developments, to its social media presence, we examine the company’s twenty-year career.

From social media towards the metaverse

Facebook was and remains an incredibly popular social networking site which changed the way that people interact with each other online. In December 2005, just before Facebook became accessible to the public, the site had six million monthly active users. 

In April 2023, this figure reached 2.989 billion monthly active users.

Use of the company’s online services continued to grow globally - particularly at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at the time, company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg anticipated that this would be a “permanent acceleration” that would only continue.

As a result, the company started to hire new workers rapidly, growing from 48,000+ employees in 2020 to more than 87,000 by the second half of 2022.

To address continued growth and re-focusing efforts on the metaverse, the company changed its name to Meta. It was keen to develop its ability to combine its products and services into an integrated space, as well as shifting towards a digital extension of the physical world via social media, virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR).

Meta is now one of the leading companies that utilises AI in the metaverse and offers information services on VR, AR and smart glasses. Most notably, its Reality Labs’ Meta Quest 3 headset has been hailed as a triumph in the future of VR, facilitating a greater blend between actual and virtual reality.

Via the headset, among other use cases, Meta believes that the metaverse will work to transform crucial industries worldwide, including education, healthcare, mechanics and engineering, to name a few.

A commitment to open-source AI

Meta has not undergone operations without some controversy, having encountered several lawsuits concerning data protection. In addition, company revenue continued to slip between 2021 and 2023, particularly after the digital boom started to plateau in the wake of the global pandemic.

Soon after, Meta resorted to cutting 13% of its workforce in a mass layoff move - a huge decision that shook the technology industry at the time.

Despite this, for the first time in two years, Meta’s stock has skyrocketed, reportedly having hit record highs. Its net income jumped more than 200% fueled in part by the launch of its new platform, Threads, in summer 2023. Its recent financial performance has achieved record highs for the first time in over two years, surpassing expectations.

This sudden growth can be attributed to AI. In fact, Meta has pledged to continue with its responsible AI developments in order to move forward in its digital transformation journey.

For instance, the company recently formed an AI Alliance with IBM in December 2023 to facilitate greater AI innovation and open-source AI. As part of a goal to ensure that AI benefits everyone, Meta is working hard to build AI models responsibly across education, research, development and governance.

Zuckerberg subsequently announced in January 2024 that the tech giant has officially started training Llama 3 - the next generation of its generative AI (Gen AI) model - to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI). The company joins other high-profile developers like OpenAI and Google DeepMind also exploring the same type of AI, with the technology predicted to become the most powerful technology ever invented.

With more developments expected in the coming months, it is safe to say that Meta shows no signs of slowing down in 2024.

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