The Metaverse Is Being Built

I know that Facebook has generated a lot of talk about the metaverse, but the metaverse will be built and contain many companies and persistent virtual worlds. Those places will interoperate with one another. They will also interoperate with the physical world. Microsoft has described the metaverse as “a persistent digital world that is inhabited by digital twins of people, places and things.”

It will certainly create its own economy, much like what happened from the early days of the Internet. Many metaverse stories seem to portray as a leisure and game environment, but it will take in much more serious industries and markets. It will certainly include eventually finance, retail,  health & fitness and others. (I think it will be incorporated into education too, but that will be an upcoming article.)

Do you recall when Niantic launched its very popular Pokemon Go in 2016? That launch moved the idea of merging the physical world and AR and VR experiences. I read recently that Niantic CEO John Hanke had once called the metaverse a “dystopian nightmare,” but now they are looking to create their own version that will be AR-focused. Their augmented reality development kit is called Lightship. It is intended to make it easier to build AR experiences.

An article on gizmodo.com listed other companies besides Facebook and Niantic that are already building their way into a metaverse.   

Microsoft announced efforts to pursue an enterprise, office-focused metaverse by integrating AR and VR from its Microsoft Mesh platform into Teams which it sees as a “gateway to the metaverse."

Nvidia's OmNVIDIA Omniverse is an open platform where creators, designers, researchers, and engineers can connect major design tools, assets, and projects to collaborate and iterate in a shared virtual space. The company's announcement shows it as part of their broader “omniverse” ambitions. Omniverse is their own branded name for the metaverse and I suspect other companies will also try to brand their part of the metaverse, although a true metaverse will contain all of them. The Internet contains many portals, platforms, domains, and websites, but they are all the Internet or World Wide Web.

Meta, which people consider something new, actually has years of experience building its VR and AR applications. They already have their Horizons Workrooms platform available as a free beta on the Oculus Quest 2. It is a virtual office space designed for workers at home, in the office, or anywhere else. (Note: The Oculus brand


NOTE: In October 2021, Facebook, Inc. announced that it would change its corporate name to Meta, and that the Oculus brand name would be phased out in 2022. Future VR hardware produced by the company is expected to fall under the "Meta" brand rather than Oculus, while "Horizon" will be used for immersive social experiences operated by Meta, including those previously operated under the Oculus brand.

 

 

Fake Facebook Accounts

signupNo one is giving Facebook or Meta or Mark Zuckerberg a free pass these days. Criticism is a daily event and their PR people must be in constant firefighting mode. But Facebook has been doing things to protect privacy and security and Facebook I keep hearing ads on podcasts about how they are promoting safety.  Unfortunately, the criticism is usually drowning out the tools they do offer and the actions they are taking. If you are on Facebook, you should be doing your part in protecting your account. Much of online protection is a matter of personal responsibility.

One of the areas that often gets attention is fake accounts. By the end of 2019, Facebook removed a staggering 5.5 billion fake accounts. Plenty of companies would be happy to have that many legitimate accounts but Facebook far exceeds that number. The removals continue and from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2021 they removed approximately 1.8 billion fake accounts, up from 1.3 billion fake accounts in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

Why would anyone want to make a fake account?

Scammers use fake Facebook accounts to connect with users and then their friends to scrape personal information. That can be used to steal identities. They can also reach out to anyone who's accepted that fake friend request to try and scam them, since this fake account is sending friend requests to all your friends. This is called Facebook cloning.

I have seen a number of my friends' accounts be cloned using a few photos they have made public and any "public" information. When a clone of your account is created using your name you are not the real object of attention. It is actually your friends that are the target and the hope is that your friends will accept the fake friend request.

The cloned account often looks quite bare. Some people immediately recognize that they are already friends with that person/name and know this new request is fake. But if you have many friends or accept requests without looking a bit closer, you can be scammed. If you accept that friend request, the scammer now has access to your friend-visible information and then your friends' accounts' personal information. This access expands rapidly even if not everyone accepts the requests.

To report a fake account, go to  https://www.facebook.com/help/306643639690823

You should also take the initiative to use some tools Facebook offers and do some protecting on your own.

Privacy Checkup - helps you control who can see what you share, how your information is used and how to secure your account.

You see the message if you click next to the ad "Why Am I Seeing This Ad?" You can adjust what ads you see starting with that one.

Off-Facebook Activity is a tool most users don't know about. It lets you control or disconnect the information businesses send to Meta about your activity on other apps and websites.

And you can download or request and export your data so you can move it between services.

AI to Human Relationships

AI human
     Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Artificial intelligence will change human relationships. How those relationships will change is unknown.

We create non-biological life forms, such as robots, and we usually make them in our own image. And yet, when they are too close to humans most of us find it creepy.

Mary Shelley was thinking about this long before computer science and AI. Her 1818 novel Frankenstein in which a scientist becomes horrified after he creates new life. Currently, although you hear about AI almost daily, most of it is behind the scenes. It is helping design drugs and also trying to predict what you want to stream next on your TV or might want to buy.

The concept of artificial general intelligence (AGI) is AI as a multitasking problem-solver whose capacity to understand and learn is equal or superior to ours. That may sound scary (we don't usually like to be surpassed by machines) but it could be a reality within decades.

Jeanette Winterson wrote 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next, a collection of essays on the implications of artificial intelligence for the way we live and love. Frankenstein is only one of many examples of a scientific advancement that started out as fiction. (Winterson also wrote a novel, Frankissstein, a reimagining of Frankenstein.)

Winterson seems to me to be both hesitant about full-on AI and excited about its possibilities. Maybe much further in the future, we will share our world with robots or whatever AI human forms that are as intelligent or more intelligent than us.

Sooner than that, we might have a companion for a senior citizen using AI who will always listen, day and night, will remember not only when to take what medication but also about all their family and friends. Maybe it will play games with them. Not video games but moving chess and checkers on a board or holding a hand of cards. And it can be fine-tuned to win sometimes and lose believably sometimes.

There will be sexbots too. Fiction predicted that a long time ago. But you don't have to be a senior citizen to have an AI companion of the platonic type. The overall theme of the book - and a central question in AI ethics - is how our relationships will change when we live with and among AI. This is not just human to AI relationships changing but it is going to change human to human relationships.

The book brings up topics new to me, such as transhumanism. That is the idea that we can our biological limits. Yes, that means merging with AI - an idea that came up long ago in fiction. It's not surprising that Winterson became interested in artificial intelligence after reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near:When Humans Transcend Biology

12 bytes is 12 essays. She goes back to the first industrial revolution. It gave us steam engines, mass production and leaps in technology. It also gave us pollution and a hard-worked lower class. She considers how AI, being genderless, may affect concepts of gender. She considers robots as possibly being a transitional stage for AI. AGI would be all around, and it might also be in us. 

As human/nonhuman boundaries blur, perhaps the most radical AI transhumnism  would be when your self/soul is placed within some kind of AI container. Life after death. Surely, this would make us reevaluate what makes a human a human.

All this makes Zuckerberg's vision of a metaverse seem tame, though I suspect that very few of us want to be a thing in the Internet of Things.

 

Welcome to the Facebook Metaverse

meta platforms logoYou've heard that Facebook is changing its name to Meta. Facebook, Inc. is now Meta Platforms, Inc. or Meta to be brief. Search "meta" on Facebook and you find about.facebook.com/meta  (meta.com will also take you there.)

People on the perimeter seem to think that this rebranding is an attempt to turn attention from all the negative press that Facebook and Instagram have been getting the past few months. This is more like when Google became Alphabet. Google still exists and people still say Google when they mean the umbrella company (Alphabet) and I'm sure it will take a long time before Facebook is thought of as being Meta.

I posted on Twitter a few weeks ago when people were guessing about the new name that I thought "Metaverse" would be the new name. It made sense since Zuckerberg has been talking about playing a big role in the future metaverse. Of course, almost no one knows what the metaverse is or will be. I wrote about it here and I still find it difficult to explain to someone this "future of the Internet."

I also suspect that, like Google/Alphabet, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg may drop the CEO role at Facebook and move over to Meta. He made the name change "official" at the company’s developer conference Connect. He hopes that Meta will reach a billion people in the next 10 years. That sounds conservative if you consider that Facebook is at two billion already. Add in WhatsApp and Instagram users into one big metaverse and Branding and marketing experts, however, agree that the Facebook name is too deeply entrenched at this point and the company faces an uphill battle to recast in a new and more transparent light.

In his announcement, Zuckerberg said he went with Meta because it’s a Greek word that “symbolizes there’s always more to build.” Meta from the Greek means "after" or "beyond." I think it is more interesting - and perhaps more on target - that it also means an awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category and self-referential.

Is it coincidental that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (the philanthropy Zuckerberg founded with his wife, Priscilla Chan) had acquired a startup called Meta that uses AI to aggregate scientific research? Officially, the project’s website says it’s a separate entity from Facebook.

Meta’s most obvious connotation here is the metaverse itself. So, what will Meta be doing in the immediate future? We have one clue looking at what they are doing with Oculus which they purchased seven years ago. That company builds virtual reality headsets that allow people to play 3D virtual games. It was also announced this week that the Oculus name would be retired and that its hardware and apps will now operate under the Meta brand.

How will Facebook change? It won't for now. Same with Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta is also Facebook Messenger, Facebook Watch, and Facebook Portal, along with acquisitions Giphy and Mapillary, and has a stake in Jio Platforms.