Who Will Build the Metaverse?

VR
Image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay

I wrote elsewhere about how the metaverse is not the multiverse. For one thing, the metaverse is not here yet, and we're not sure if the multiverse is here. Also, you can turn off the metaverse, but not the multiverse. Okay, you might need some definitions first.

Metaverse is a computing term meaning a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. It may contain some copies of the real world and it might combine VR and AR. It might turn out to be an evolved Internet along with shared, 3D virtual spaces that create a virtual universe.

The multiverse is not online. It is cosmology and, at least right now, it is a hypothetical group of multiple universes. Combined, these universes encompass all of space, time, matter, energy, information, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. That's quite overwhelming and far beyond the scope of this article.

The metaverse is being built and it is also a bit overwhelming. One person who wants to help build it is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. He recently said, “In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company… In many ways, the metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology.”

You might have encountered the word “metaverse” if you read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science-fiction novel, Snow Crash. In that book, people move back and forth from their lives in the 3D virtual living space to their "ordinary" real-time lives.

Matthew Ball has written an interesting "Metaverse Primer" containing nine articles. Ball asks "Who will build the metaverse?" It certainly won't just be Facebook. Google, Apple, and other big tech companies, but they have all been working (and investing) in augmented reality (AR) which layers tech on top of the real world and VR (virtual reality) which creates a kind of "otherverse." (Remember Google Glass back in 2013?) Epic Games, best known as the creator of Fortnite, announced in April 2021 a $1 billion round of funding to build a “long-term vision of the Metaverse” which will help the company further develop connected social experiences.

But Facebook seems to be moving on its own. It has a platform, almost 3 billion users and they own Oculus which already has a metaverse feel though it is a virtual reality (VR) device. It allows you to move between the two worlds. Facebook's platform also includes WhatsApp and Instagram which may end up playing a part in the metaverse.

I recall working and exploring inside Second Life around 2004 which was seen as a virtual world. It seemed more similar to a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Linden Lab always maintained that it was not a game. A friend who was an architect/designer in Second Life kept reminding me that "this is not The Sims." Second Life is still here but I haven't been there in a decade.

Are you ready for the metaverse? Whose metaverse entry point will you trust?

 

Synergy

Synergy is one of those words that caught fire with the general public in the late 20th century, especially in tech-related fields. In general, it is taken to mean the interaction of two or more things (organizations, substances, products, fields, etc.) that produces a greater effect when combined than separately. For example, if two colleges work jointly on a project, or the way there was cooperation between some pharmaceutical researchers in developing the COVID-19 vaccines.

But the word synergy is not a recent addition to the language. It appeared in the mid 19th century mostly in the field of physiology concerning the interaction of organs. It comes from the Greek sunergos meaning "working together" which comes from sun- ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’.

It has been used in diverse ways. In Christian theology, it was said that salvation involves synergy between divine grace and human freedom. I received a wedding engagement announcement that talked about the synergy between the two people. (They do both work in tech fields.)

The informational synergies which can be applied also in media involve a compression of transmission, access and use of information’s time, the flows, circuits and means of handling information being based on a complementary, integrated, transparent and coordinated use of knowledge.[32]

Walt Disney is given as an example of pioneering synergistic marketing. Back in the 1930s, the company licensed dozens of firms the right to use the Mickey Mouse character in products and ads. These products helped advertise their films. This kind of marketing is still used in media. For example, Marvel films are not only promoted by the company and the film distributors but also through licensed toys, games and posters. 

Shifting to tech, synergy can also be defined as the combination of human strengths and computer strengths. The use of robots and AI are clear synergies. If you read into information theory, you will find discussions of synergy when multiple sources of information taken together provide more information than the sum of the information provided by each source alone.

In education, synergy can be when schools and colleges, departments, disciplines, researchers,

Machine Learning and AI

circuit brainIn an earlier post, I wrote about the idea of having a job that is future-proof. The book I focused on by Kevin Roose is called Futureproof and it gets me thinking about a number of issues around work. 

We know that some jobs are not future-proof. Producing CDs and DVDs has a brief future. Can all those jobs move to streaming services? No. We have been hearing for a few decades that jobs in the fossil fuel industries will end eventually. Can those job move into alternative fuels? Possibly.

Automation has been the scary thing on the horizon and when it comes to jobs being lost, some will never return. Automation today is more about machine learning and artificial intelligence. Machine learning is emerging as today’s fastest-growing job as the role of automation and AI expands. You should not assume that they are the two names for the same thing.

What is the difference between machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence? They are the same. And they are different.

This is not a simple question to answer. Here are some possible ways to answer.

Machine Learning is an AI technique.

AI is preprogrammed while ML is pre-trained on data. AI is a bigger concept to create intelligent machines that can simulate human thinking capability and behavior, whereas, machine learning is an application or subset of AI that allows machines to learn from data without being programmed explicitly.

AI heuristics is limited while ML discovers, evolves, and transcends the human ability to pre-program.

In education, we might call ML reinforcement learning.

AI is a bigger concept to create intelligent machines that can simulate human thinking capability and behavior, whereas, machine learning is an application or subset of AI that allows machines to learn from data without being programmed explicitly.

AI is an umbrella term with applications varying from text analysis to robotics.

AI is about decision-making based on available data. We see it in self-driving cars, virtual personal assistants, calculating business investment risks, or examining medical samples and test results.

AI does human intelligence tasks but faster and with a reduced error rate.

Machine learning makes software applications more accurate in predicting outcomes without having to be specially programmed.

ML is an application of artificial intelligence that automatically learns and improves over time when exposed to new data.

If you were studying in order to get a future-proofed job, you probably should study AI, ML and Data Science. They are inextricably intertwined.

 

Is Your Job Future Proof?

book coverAmber MacArthur's newsletter turned me on to a new book by The New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose called Futureproof. which considers the question Is your job future-proof? 

First thought: Is any job future-proof? I'd guess that we will always need doctors, farmers, teachers, police and a bunch of other professions, but as they change will they remain recognizable as their former professions?

As a teacher, I've been hearing for decades that we'd be replaced someday by computers, robots, and artificial intelligence. It hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it won't happen after I have left the planet.

The age of automation has been with us since the last century. We have all seen how some industries, like automakers, have automated many jobs that were done by humans. Some humans are still there working with robots and such but not very many. I once toured a beer bottling facility and the observation area was decorated with a timeline showing the place over the years. The thing that immediately hit me was that as we moved through the 20th-century photos was that people were vanishing from the photos. A crowd of humans was putting bottles into boxes in the 1920s and on the floor in front of me now was one person on a platform operating controls for it all to be done by automation.

Automation doesn't take breaks, call in sick, slow down at the end of the day, join a union, or mind working 24/7 for no extra pay.

Futureproof's subtitle is "9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation" and the first rule is to "Be Surprising, Social, and Scarce." Roose's approach is to do things yourself to protect your job.

It's not about defeating the machines because they are here and not leaving and it doesn’t just change our jobs. It changes our entire life experience with AI and algorithms influencing what you watch on screens, what you listen to, the news you get, and on and on. 

It's not about becoming like a machine. In fact, Roose thinks you need to be more human. What are the creative, inspiring, and meaningful things you can do that even the most advanced AI can’t do? At least, not yet.

Better technology for medical imaging was welcomed into hospitals, but you still needed humans to read those x-rays, scans, and such. But now, we are finding that AI might be able to more accurately read those results without bias and using comparisons to an ever-growing data collection of other results. 

Chess and Go players once thought no machine could beat a master. Wrong.

There is too much in the book to summarize here but think about some of these provocative personal rules: Resist machine drift; Leave handprints; Demote your devices; Treat AI like a chimp army.
 
Think about one of those rules: "Leave Handprints." It's the idea that we still value human artisanship and service. People are willing to pay a premium for some handmade items - such as artwork - or to be served in a restaurant.