Published: Wed, October 11, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Joan Schultz

Zuckerberg taps VR to detail relief efforts in Puerto Rico

Zuckerberg taps VR to detail relief efforts in Puerto Rico

From inside Facebook's Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Menlo Park, California, the two chose to "check out this interesting 360 video", as Zuckerberg described it, of the devastation in Puerto Rico.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced today that his company is working with the American Red Cross to target aid efforts in Puerto Rico using artificial intelligence and satellite imagery to identify areas to deliver aid.

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is in the firing line over a freakish livestream demo of the company's virtual reality (VR) products in which a cartoon version of the billionaire "visited" hurricane-hit Puerto Rico.

"We're looking around, and, you know, it feels like we're really here in Puerto Rico, where it's obviously a tough place to get to now and a lot of people are really suffering", Zuckerberg explained in the livestream as his avatar grinned. The live-stream saw Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, head of social VR at Facebook, represented as cartoon avatars in flooded areas of the U.S. territory, where citizens are still struggling to access clean water, electricity and other necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Importantly, Zuck also highlighted that Facebook donated $1.5 million to relief efforts and sent a number of employees down to the island to help ensure that networks were up so that relief efforts could be coordinated more easily.

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But the video is also cringeworthy: Zuck stops in front of an image of a flooded street and observes "this street is completely flooded", prompting Rubin to say "It's insane to feel like you are here". The pair then high five as they virtually hang over some Puerto Rican devastation. The smile on Zuckerberg's cartoon avatar as he spoke of the devastation and the work his company has done to help Puerto Ricans check in with loved ones, and to aid in reconnecting the country, completely undercut the gravity of the situation.

"We use artificial intelligence to build what we call "population maps". "Rachel and I aren't even in the same building in the physical world, but it feels like we're in the same place and can make eye contact", Facebook CEO said. When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, it took out the island's entire electric grid, cutting both communications and access to drinking water.

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Needless to say, many weren't happy with the use of disaster relief to sell a product.

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