Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met with the Pope during a visit to Italy today and posted on his own Facebook page that he and his wife gave the spiritual leader a model of Aquila, a solar-powered drone designed to beam internet access to remote areas.
"Priscilla and I had the honor of meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican. We told him how much we admire his message of mercy and tenderness, and how he's found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world," Zuckerberg wrote. "We also discussed the importance of connecting people, especially in parts of the world without internet access. We gave him a model of Aquila, our solar-powered aircraft that will beam internet connectivity to places that don't have it. And we shared our work with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to help people around the world."
Zuckerberg later held a townhall Q&A where he answered questions about Facebook’s safety efforts, augmented reality, his daughter and an artificial intelligence system he’s building for his home. Zuckerberg addressed Italy’s earthquake early in the Q&A, outlining how the company has helped in the aftermath of a natural disaster that killed more than 290 people.
He noted that half the people in the region used a Facebook tool called Safety Check to let their loved ones know they were OK; the company has given 500,000 euros in ad credits for the Red Cross in Italy; and people are using the site to support disaster relief.
“The real pain and the real rebuilding happens over a long period of time,” he said.
The couple also visited Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and discussed what the company has done in the wake of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck central Italy last week and how tech jobs are fueling the country’s economy.
The 32-year-old said in January that he wanted to build something similar to Iron Man’s robot butler J.A.R.V.I.S. as part of a challenge for the new year. Zuckerberg said he hopes to have a demo next month and so far it can control the lights, gates and temperature in his house.
“(That’s) much to the chagrin of my wife, who now cannot control the temperature because it is programmed to only listen to my voice,” he quipped.
Zuckerberg announced his trip to Italy last week after the country was struck by a devastating earthquake. He has scheduled a live question and answer session for later on Monday, and said he was "looking forward to spending time with our Italian community." The tech CEO has said Rome is a special city to him. He honeymooned there with Chan, and says he is a student of Latin and Classical history.
In a statement from the Vatican Press Office, it was reported that the two men met and "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."