Like a kid heading to the first day of school, I was so excited to attend the Facebook Developer Conference (F8). Arriving at the famous McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, the first thing I noticed was the diversity of attendees, flying from all 5 continents to get fed with the latest products, vision, and technology that the social-media giant was about to offer.
Over the course of two days, one message rang clear to me: the future is now – AI, IoT, AR, VR, machine learning, chatbots, cyber security – and it’s here to stay. F8 did not disappoint. Here are some highlights from my experience.
As you can imagine, there was much shouting and excitement as Mark Zuckerberg made his entrance on the stage. You could tell developers were eager to find out about all the announcements Facebook was about to make. As the applause settled down and a hush fell over the audience, Mark began his speech to kickoff the conference. He started with reinforcing Facebook’s mission, presenting the company's roadmap, and describing what Facebook sees as the “Future of Technology.” He then covered some of the recent issues the company has encountered with Cambridge Analytica and the measures Facebook was taking in that regard. Finally, he briefly presented some of the new products and features from Facebook (which would be discussed in more depth by other top executives over the course of the conference)––features like FaceDate (a dating service), Clear History (a privacy feature allowing you to quickly manage your online footprint), Instagram Video Chat, Facebook Groups, the Oculus Go (a stand-alone VR headset), Messenger’s new translation feature, and chatbot technologies, such as Wit.ai and Duckling, and so much more.
The Facebook Developer Conference was somewhat tailored for a broad audience, with attendees and speakers representing a range of professions and interests. With 50+ sessions to choose from, there was something for everyone – from developer updates about new Facebook features to best practices for using Facebook to grow a business. Quite a few interesting sessions were scheduled around the same time, and some rooms filled up quickly, however, attendees could always view the presentations remotely via the F8 app or online (and all recordings are still posted and open to the public here).
From a developer’s perspective, I was pleased that several of the product-driven sessions still preserved a strong emphasis on the underlying technologies. Other sessions were more clearly developer-centric and focused on topics about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Virtual Reality, Chatbots, Privacy, Securing Facebook Infrastructures, as well as the impact of these technologies on communities across the globe (most of the technologies being used at Facebook are open-source and available here). I really enjoyed the sessions I attended, here are some of my favorites.
- ONNX: Creating a More Open AI Ecosystem: Facebook presented ONNX, a collaborative project initiated by Facebook as an ecosystem for interchangeable AI framework, developed with the support of other major companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon, with the quest to create an open format to represent deep learning models in order to improve AI development. Facebook also provided a list of frameworks that would integrate with ONNX, such as Caffe2, and PyTorch.
- Security at Facebook Scale: Where Facebook presented how it invests heavily on securing its infrastructures using different methods, such as organizing security bootcamps, creating security libraries for it’s engineers to use, applying peer reviews, and finally using logging and analytics tools to find security holes. A very interesting one was OsQuey, a SQL powered operating system instrumentation, monitoring, and analytics.
- Introducing PyTorch 1.0: A New Research-Focused, Production-Ready, Deep Learning Framework: During this session, Facebook introduced PyTorch, A Python package that provide Tensor computation a as deep neural networks built on tape-based autodiff systems. A major key regarding the use of PyTorch is to facilitate the process of going from AI Research to development.
- The Impact of VR in Nigeria: Judith Okonkwo, a veteran in virtual reality, shows how she was able to build a community of innovative developers via her lab. She also presented an ambitious project which consists on developing an all-in-one solar powered VR headset and finally talked about some potential uses of VR on the continent especially for education and healthcare.
- How React Native Helps Companies Build Better Mobile Apps: A panel explored how large and small companies are using React Native to quickly build high quality and delightful mobile app experiences. Companies like Skype presented issues they were having while creating apps across multiple platforms and were able to simplify their codebase as well as their workflow with React.
- Using Natural Language Processing to Enhance Your Messenger Conversations: In this session Facebook presented how their virtual assistant, M, is enriching conversations in Messenger and talked about the latest suggestion from M: translations. They also talked about Wit.ai, which enable developers to use AI at scale, and how you can use the newly released integration for built-in NLP to automate what matters to your business.
Festival Hall and Hackathon
During the short 10-15 minute breaks between sessions, people would either run to the next session (to beat the crowd) or hang around in the Festival Hall where there were booths dedicated to some of the technologies and topics presented in the sessions. There was even one part of the Festival Hall labelled “the classroom” where developers could get their hands on tools and try some of the cool features and ask relevant questions. The Oculus section was giving a first glimpse at the Oculus Rift and the new Oculus Go VR headset; you could try new Oculus games (single or multi-player) or various Oculus experiences. Another part of the Festival Hall, “the developer garage,” was dedicated for the Facebook API and SDKs (Suck as Facebook Login, Analytics, Business SDK) where developers could ask questions about specific features of the Facebook platform.
Every year, there’s also a Hackathon that developers can participate in (the word “F8” actually derived from the early years of the Facebook developer Conference where developers were able to come up with solutions in the Hackathon in about 8 hours). This year, several teams were rewarded for the awesome solutions they developed overnight by hacking on Facebook technologies in order to solve issues in various communities with the goal of bringing the world closer together. About 154 developers in 53 teams participated in the competition The winning team ended up with $15,000 and other goodies as they quickly developed a solution to allow communities to connect together either online or offline.
On top of all the great content being presented, the overall conference experience was a treat. There was a huge selection of snacks available all day for all tastes (kosher, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.) and great happy hours. Unlike other tech conferences I have attended, Facebook went a step further by having a live performance by “Logic” (Rapper) after the happy hour session of Day 1. After getting a pile of information during the whole day, it was a very relaxing moment to dance and enjoy some music with fellow developers.
It’s clear that with all the announcements made during F8, Facebook intends to stay on the forefront of technology and “keep building” (as Mark Zuckerberg said). They are seriously invested in trending technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and more in order to drive their mission to keep the world connected. Along with Facebook, other big tech companies (like Microsoft and Google) also continue to rise to the challenge of pushing the boundaries of the latest in technology, sometimes even joining forces on projects (like ONNX) to share knowledge and advance the field. As developers, it’s time for us to pay attention, learn, collaborate, and adapt. Attending the conference was an incredibly rewarding experience for me, and I returned to Foster Made armed with stickers and conference swag to share, excited about the future of technology––which is now.