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Facebook Poaches Microsoft Engineers to Build Virtual Reality Tools for Facebook

Facebook is pushing deep into virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Ryan Lash/TED

Facebook has hired three longtime Microsoft veterans to head up a new computational photography team at the company, a small group tasked with building new ways to share photos and videos to the platform.

The team, led by 20-year Microsoft researcher Rick Szeliski, has a fascinating job: To create tools so that Facebook users can share 3-D video and virtual reality video to their profiles. That includes things like 360-degree video, which Facebook just launched in News Feed for the first time in September.

As the team described it on its webpage: “We will be creating new tools and technologies that have in the past often been restricted to a specialist or required many hours of curation and bring that to the entire Facebook community.” When asked for comment, a Facebook spokesperson pointed Re/code to the team’s new webpage.

The new team is yet another signal that Facebook is serious about virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The company is gearing up to launch its first VR headset, the Oculus Rift, sometime early next year, and it has an extensive team of researchers and scientists working on things like voice and image recognition technology to help users interact more aggressively with its products. It is also working to perfect a virtual assistant inside Messenger that might help with shopping and scheduling right from your smartphone. It’s one of the ways Facebook hopes to keep its 1.5 billion users engaged down the road.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been open about his belief that virtual reality is the next big platform. That won’t happen if it isn’t simple to create content that works for it. That’s where Szeliski and his team come in. These kinds of content-sharing capabilities could also help with Oculus sales. You’re probably more likely to buy a headset if there’s a lot of VR content on Facebook to consume.

The three new hires include Szeliski, Michael Cohen and Matt Uyttendaele, who spent a combined 60 years working at Microsoft before joining Facebook in October. They’ll be stationed in the company’s Seattle office.

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