On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan met with Pope Francis, as part of Zuckerberg’s trip of Italy, announced following the devastating earthquake that hit the country last week, killing hundreds. After discussing the importance of connecting people in the world without internet access, Zuckerberg presented the Pope with a drone – but, alas, not a working one. Instead, it was a model of Facebook’s solar-powered Aquila aircraft, designed to beam internet access to those areas of the world that are lacking connectivity.As reported by Fortune, August 29, 2016:
The Aquila drone, which has a wingspan of over 113 feet – bigger than a Boeing 737 – just completed its first official test flight this summer. The drone will fly for 90 days at a time, and can blanket a 60-mile wide area with internet access.
According to a post on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, the CEO told the Pope how much he admired his message of mercy and tenderness, as well as how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world. (The current Pope uses social media, having followed in Benedict’s footsteps by joining Twitter, and he signed up for an Instagram account just this March.)
In a statement released by the Vatican’s press office, the Pope and Zuckerberg discussed how technology can aid in continuing to spread the Pope’s message.
“Together they spoke about how to use communications technology to alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and to communicate a message of hope, especially to the most disadvantaged,” said Vatican press office director Greg Burke in a statement.
As part of the trip, Zuckerberg also met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to discuss the earthquake, the economy, and technology’s impact on job creation, among other things. The CEO hosted a Townhall Q&A in Rome, which was live-streamed on Facebook, as well.
“I told the Prime Minister I’m especially excited with the work being done across Europe on artificial intelligence,” wrote Zuckerberg on Facebook.
“As part of the Facebook AI Research Partnership Program, we’re providing 26 state-of-the-art GPU servers to research institutions across Europe — including one to the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia here in Italy. They’ve got a great artificial intelligence and computer vision program, and this new technology will hopefully help students and the faculty do even more,” he said.
Fifteen research groups across 9 countries in Europe will receive these computers, which are similar to those at FAIR (Facebook AI Research) with 8 high-end GPU cards each. The computers are meant to help recipients in research areas like computer vision, learning systems, deep neural networks, and more.
Beyond getting face time with the Pope, it’s also interesting to see Zuckerberg taking on the role that’s usually reserved for politicians – that is, touring a country after a natural disaster. While that wasn’t the primary purpose of the visit, it’s clear that Facebook has a larger role to play in the world economy these days, and is working to get key players to buy into its plans to bring the internet to the unconnected masses.
Earlier this year, Zuckerberg went to China, where he held a rare meeting with China’s propaganda chief, Liu Yunshan, to discuss internet development in China, and how Facebook could be included. The site has been blocked in the country, which hosts 720+ million internet users, since 2009.
During his trip to Italy, Mark Zuckerberg made sure to pencil the Pope into his schedule.Click on the link to see To Unite the Earth, Connect It by Bono and Mark Zuckerberg in The New York Times, September 26, 2015. It's worth noting that Bono, who wants to unite the world technologically, is also involved in the Coexist movement, which seeks to unite the world's religions. See my post A false Jesus on Youtube (December 16, 2009).
On Monday, the Facebook (fb) CEO and his wife, Priscilla Chan, met with Pope Francis to discuss “how to use communications technology to alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and to communicate a message of hope, especially to the most disadvantaged,” according to a statement from the Vatican press office obtained by CNN.
Zuckerberg has made it his mission to bring the Internet to those around the world who don’t have access. Last year, he announced a plan to provide refugee camps with Internet access, which is a small part of a larger global connectivity plan he’s working on with rock star Bono. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Zuckerberg and the U2 frontman detailed their plan to get everyone online by 2020, a step they believe is “necessary for development.”
On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg posted a picture of him giving Pope Francis an Aquila—Facebook’s solar-powered drone designed to help the Internet expand to and improve in developing countries. The aircraft successfully completed its first test flight just two months ago.
Italy was hit by an earthquake last week that killed nearly 300 people and injured hundreds of others. Soon afterward, Zuckerberg announced that he would be taking a trip to the country. It’s uncertain whether he’ll visit the cities affected by the natural disaster, though he did host a live question and answer session in Rome on Monday.
During the Q&A, Zuckerberg answered questions about people increasingly looking to social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter (twtr) , to get their news. While he said there are “advantages to obtaining information from different parts of the world,” he shot down rumors that Facebook was becoming a news outlet.
“We are a tech company, not a media company,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment.