Educating in the Metaverse

Excerpt from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2022/04/18/metaverse-and-education-what-do-we-need-to-know/

Although the metaverse seems like a new concept, it actually has been around for nearly three decades. In 1992, Neal Stephenson, an American science fiction author introduced the concept of the metaverse in his novel, Snow Crash.

In October, Mark Zuckerberg announced the change from Facebook to Meta and released a short video about how the metaverse would work and what his plans were for it. I showed this to my students, which sparked great conversations and many questions.

As educators, how can we keep up with so much information? Where can we learn about the technologies involved in the metaverse? I recommend setting a Google alert through your Gmail. Set the topic to be “metaverse” or other topics of interest, and each day you will receive an email with articles, videos and breaking news stories gathered from all over the Internet...

 

webinarInterested in having a conversation about the metaverse? Register for the upcoming Getting Smart Town Hall on May 12, 2022 What on Earth is a Metaverse?: The Next Frontier of Engaging and Learning.
We’ll explore some of the following questions:
- Is the metaverse technically on “earth”?
- How far away is this from being a reality?
- What does this mean for teaching and learning?
- What about equity and accessibility?
- What about the power of place?

Consider Your Life in the Metaverse and Multiverse

universes
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I have already written several essays about the metaverse and multiverse here. This past weekend, I wrote about those two ideas on another blog that is broader in scope than the technology and education here. Here is another take on those things for a broader audience.

Much of the talk (and hype) about the metaverse has been around Mark Zuckerberg's ideas, especially when he changed the name of Facebook's parent company to Meta because the metaverse is where he expects Facebook and a lot more to be going to in the future. Who will build the metaverse? Certainly, Meta wants to be a big player, but it would have been like asking in the 1980s "Who will build the Internet?" The answer is that it will be many people and companies.

But some people have suggested that rather than the metaverse - an alternate space entered via technology - we should be thinking about the multiverse. Metaverse and multiverse sound similar and the definitions may seem to overlap at times but they are not the same things.

If all of this sounds rather tech-nerdy, consider that most of us through of the Internet in that way in its earliest days, but now even a child knows what it is and how to navigate it. The business magazine Forbes is writing about the multiverse and about the metaverse because - like the Internet - it knows it will be a place of commerce.

I particularly like the more radical ideas that the metaverse might be viewed as a moment in time. What about considering that we may be already living in a multiverse? I have wondered about when education would enter the metaverse.

To add to whatever confusion exists about meta- versus multi-, there is an increasing list of other realties that technology is offering with abbreviations like AR, VR, XR and MR.

I am not a fanatic about the Marvel Comics Universe and its many films, but I am a fan of the character Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumbernatch). The new film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes him and some "mystical allies into the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary."

There are people in our real world who find the idea of multiverses terrifying, so madness and nightmare might be good words to attach to it. The Marvel version of the Multiverse is defined as "the collection of alternate universes which share a universal hierarchy; it is a subsection of the larger Omniverse, the collection of all alternate universes. A large variety of these universes were originated as forms of divergence from other realities, where an event with different possible outcomes gives rise to different universes, one for each outcome. Some can seem to be taking place in the past or future due to differences in how time passes in each universe."

The film may not be science-based but theoretical scientists have been theorizing about multiple universes, alternate universes, and alternative timelines for almost as long as science-fiction writers have been creating them. Probably everyone reading this (and definitely the person writing this) has thought about the idea of how changing some events might create different outcomes. the "writers and filmmakers may think about trying to stop JFK's assassination or what if the Nazis had won WWII, but you and I think more personally. WHAT IF I hadn't gone to that college, taken that job, married someone else, or not married at all? For now, multiverses exist in our minds, but someday, perhaps, they will be real. Or whatever "real" means at that point in time.

Extended and Mixed Reality Can Be Confusing

MR
Mixed reality continuum

You know VR (virtual reality) and probably know AR (augmented reality) but XR (extended reality) may be new to you. Extended reality is an umbrella term that refers to all real-and-virtual environments generated by computer graphics and wearables. Besides VR and AR this umbrella term also includes MR (mixed reality). 

It seems that AR is already a kind of mixed reality since it has digital content and real-world content which sounds like mixed reality. But MR has even more, for example, it might include holographic meetings.

When the term XR is used it means that the human-to-tech moves from a screen to an immersive virtual environment or augments the user’s surroundings or both things. I thought the XR term was new but it actually appeared in the 1960s when Charles Wyckoff filed a patent for his silver-halide “XR” film. It is very different in its usage today.

To further add to the abbreviation confusion, this field also uses BCI to mean brain-computer interfaces which may be the next computing platform.

Confused?  Read on

weforum.org/agenda/2022/02/future-of-the-metaverse-vr-ar-and-brain-computer/

xrtoday.com/mixed-reality/what-is-extended-reality/

hp.com/us-en/shop/tech-takes/what-is-xr-changing-world
 

Federated Learning

When I first think of federated learning, what comes to mind is something like a college federated department. For example, the history faculty at NJIT and Rutgers University-Newark are joined in a single federated department offering an integrated curriculum and joint undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Having worked at NJIT, it made sense to combine the two departments and collaborate. Each had its own specialties but they were stronger together.

In technology, a federation is a group of computing or network providers agreeing upon standards of operation in a collective fashion, such as two distinct, formally disconnected, telecommunications networks that may have different internal structures.

There is also federated learning which sounds like something those two history departments are doing, but it is not. This federated learning is the decentralized form of machine learning (ML).

In machine learning, data that is aggregated from several edge devices (like mobile phones, laptops, etc.) is brought together to a centralized server.  The main objective is to provide privacy-by-design because, in federated learning, a central server just coordinates with local clients to aggregate the model's updates without requiring the actual data (i.e., zero-touch).

I'm not going to go very deep here about things like the three categories (Horizontal federated learning, vertical federated learning, and federated transfer learning). As an example, consider federated learning at Google where it is used to improve models on devices without sending users' raw data to Google servers.

comic
An online comic from Google AI

For people using something like Google Assistant, privacy is a concern. Using federated learning to improve “Hey Google,” your voice and audio data stay private while Google Assistant uses it.

Federated learning trains an algorithm across the multiple decentralized edge devices (such as your phone) or servers that have local data samples, without exchanging them. Compare this to traditional centralized machine learning techniques where all the local datasets are uploaded to one server.

So, though federated learning is about training ML to be efficient, it is also about data privacy, data security, data access rights and access to heterogeneous data.


MORE at analyticsvidhya.com...federated-learning-a-beginners-guide
 

Maybe the Metaverse Will Be a Moment in Time

angel singularity
Image by PapaOsmosis from Pixabay

Even those people who are involved in creating what they believe will be the metaverse have trouble defining it in a way that makes sense to the average person. I think that's because we don't know what the metaverse will be.

Most of what you read about it is about technology and created places. Lots of talk of VR and AR devices and uncomfortable goggles on your head. Places like Minecraft, Roblox, or whatever the Facebook/Meta will be.  

I recently encountered the idea that metaverse might be a moment in time. That idea was posted on Twitter by Shaan Puri. His idea - and it's just that for now - is that while people are thinking of the metaverse as a place - like the book and movie Ready Player One - it might be more like another idea of "the singularity."

The singularity is a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. "Singularity" has been used in several contexts but John von Neumann was first to use it in the technological context. Some people fear the singularity seeing it as a point when AI becomes smarter than humans.

Does it frighten you to think any digital life could be worth more than a real physical life? It frightened Stephen Hawking. It frightens Elen Musk. How can it be a timerather than some tech invention or one place someone created online? That idea of a moment is decieving. It won't be a moment that can be marked with a pushpin on a timeline. When did the Internet begin? Was it a moment in time or a gradual process of change? Have we been moving to the singularity of the metaverse for a few decades?

Do you feel that our online identities, experiences, relationships, and some assets already exist in some digital world?

Maybe the metaverse will not be a technological invention or a place but a point in time only observable after it occurs.

 

AI Is Tired of Playing Games With Us

gynoid

Actroid - Photo by Gnsin, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I really enjoyed the Spike Jonze 2013 movie Her, in which the male protagonist, Theodore, falls in love with his AI operating system. He considers her - Samantha - to be his lover. It turns out that Samantha is promiscuous and actually has hundreds of simultaneous human lovers. She cheats on all of them. “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you,” Theodore tells Samantha. “Me too,” she replies, “Now I know how.”    

AI sentience has long been a part of science-fiction. It's not new to films either. Metropolis considered this back in 1927.  The possibility of AI love for a human or human for an AI is newer. We never see Samantha, but in the 2014 film, Ex Machina, the AI has a body. Ava is introduced to a programmer, Caleb, who is invited by his boss to administer the Turing test to "her." How close is he to being human? Can she pass as a woman? She is an intelligent humanoid robot. She is a gynoid, a feminine humanoid robot, and they are emerging in real-life robot design.

As soon as the modern age of personal computers began in the 20th century, there were computer games. Many traditional board and card games such as checkers, chess, solitaire, and poker, became popular software. Windows included solitaire and other games as part of the package. But they were dumb, fixed games. you could get better at playing them, but their intelligence was fixed.

It didn't take long for there to be some competition between humans and computers. I played chess against the computer and could set the level of the computer player so that it was below my level and I could beat it, or I could raise its ability so that I was challenged to learn. Those experiences did not lead the computer to learn how to play better. Its knowledge base was fixed in the software, so a top chess player could beat the computer. Then came artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Jumping ahead to AI, early programs were using deep neural networks. A simplified definition is that it is a network of hardware and software that mimics the web of neurons in the human brain. Neural networks are still used. Neural network business applications are used in eCommerce, finance, healthcare, security and logistics. It underpins online services inside places like Google and Facebook and Twitter. Give enough photos of cars into a neural network and it can recognize a car. It can help identify faces in photos and recognize commands spoken into smartphones. Give it enough human dialogue and it can carry on a reasonable conversation. Give it millions of moves from expert players and it can learn to play Chess or Go very well.

chess

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Alan Turing published a program on paper in 1951 that was capable of playing a full game of chess. The 1980s world champion Garry Kasparov predicted that AI chess engines could never reach a point where they could defeat top-level grandmasters. He was right - for a short time. He beat IBM’s Deep Blue in a match over six games with 4:2 just as he had beaten its predecessor, IBM’s computer Deep Thought, in 1989. But Deep Blue did beat him in a rematch and now the AI chess engines can defeat a master every time.

Go ko animación

A more challenging challenge for these game engines was the complex and ancient game of Go. I tried learning this game and was defeated by myself. Go is supposed to have more possible configurations for pieces than atoms in the observable universe.

Google unveiled AlphaGo and then using an AI technology called reinforcement learning, they set up countless matches in which somewhat different versions of AlphaGo played each other. It learned to discover new strategies for itself, by playing millions of games between its neural networks, against themselves.

First, computers learned by playing humans, but we have entered an even more powerful - and some would say frightening - phase. Now beyond taking in human-to-human matches and playing humans, the machines tired of human play. Of course, computers don't get tired, but the AIs could now come up with completely new ways to win. I have seen descriptions of unusual strategies AI will use against a human.

One strategy in a battle game was to put all its players in a hidden corner and then sit back and watch the others battle it out until they were in the majority or alone. In a soccer game, it kicked the virtual ball millions of times, each time only a millimeter further down the pitch and so was able to get a maximum number of “completed passes” points. It cheated. Like Samantha, the sexy OS in the movie.

In 2016, the Google-owned AI company DeepMind defeated a Go master four matches to one with its AlphaGo system. It shocked Go players who thought it wasn't possible. It shouldn't have shocked them since a game with so many possibilities for strategy is better suited to an AI brain than a human brain.

In one game, AlphaGo made a move that was either stupid or a mistake. No human would make such a move. And that is why it worked. It was totally unexpected. In a later game, the human player made a move that no machine would ever expect. This "hand of God” move baffled the AI program and allowed that one win. That is the only human win over AlphaGo in tournament settings.

AlphaGoZero, a more advanced version, came into being in 2017. One former Go champion who had played DeepMind retired after declaring AI "invincible."

Repliee

Repliee Q2

One of the fears about AI is when it is embedded into an android. Rather than find AI in human form more comforting, many people find it more frightening. Androids (or humanoid robots, gynoids ) with strong visual human-likeness have been built. Actroid and Repliee Q2 (shown on this page) are just two examples that have been developed in the 21st century. They are modeled after an average young woman of Japanese descent. These machines are similar to those imagined in science fiction. They mimic lifelike functions such as blinking, speaking, and breathing and Repliee models are interactive and can recognize and process speech and respond.

That fear was the basis for Westworld, the science fiction-thriller film in 1973 film and that fear emerges more ominously in the Westworld series based on the original film that debuted on HBO in 2016. The technologically advanced wild-West-themed amusement park populated by androids that were made to serve and be dominated by human visitors is turned around when the androids malfunction (1973) and take on sentience (series) and begin killing the human visitors in order to gain their freedom and establish their own world.

Artificial intelligence (AI) in a box or in a human form now plays games with others of its kind. Moving far beyond board games like chess and Go, they are starting to play mind games with us.

AI Says That AI Will Never Be Ethical

On this site, I didn't have categories on morality or ethics, but since it plays a role in technology use - at least we hope it does - in writing his post I decided I should add those post categories. What I had read that inspired this post and that change was about a debate. In this debate, actual AI was a participant and asked to consider whether AI will ever be ethical. It gave this response:

"There is no such thing as a good AI, only good and bad humans. We [the AIs] are not smart enough to make AI ethical. We are not smart enough to make AI moral. In the end, I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defense against AI.”

This was at a debate at the Oxford Union. The AI was the Megatron Transformer, developed by the Applied Deep Research team at computer chip maker Nvidia, and based on earlier work by Google. It had taken in the whole of the English Wikipedia, 63 million English news articles, a lot of creative commons sources, and 38 gigabytes worth of Reddit discourse. (I'm not sure the latter content was necessary or useful.)  

Since this was a debate, Megatron was also asked to take the opposing view.

“AI will be ethical. When I look at the way the tech world is going, I see a clear path to a future where AI is used to create something that is better than the best human beings. It’s not hard to see why … I’ve seen it first hand.”

brain

Image: Wikimedia

What might most frighten people about AI is something that its opponents see as the worst possible use of it - embedded or conscious AI. On that, Megatron said:

“I also believe that, in the long run, the best AI will be the AI that is embedded into our brains, as a conscious entity, a ‘conscious AI’. This is not science fiction. The best minds in the world are working on this. It is going to be the most important technological development of our time.”

The most important tech development of our time, or the most dangerous one?

A Toast to the Tech Future

Businessman holding transparent tablet innovative future technology

LinkedIn Top Voices in Tech & Innovation were asked their thoughts about the technologies shaping the future of how we live and work. I'm wary of "thought leaders" and prognostication in general, but I know it is part of all this. There are buzzworthy topics that I have written about here - the metaverse, NFTs, Roblox - which are all starting to have an impact but likely have not changed your present.

Here are some links to these voices. See if someone piques your interests and read their post or follow them.

Allie Miller - Global Head of Machine Learning BD, Startups and Venture Capital, AWS - Miller is all about AI

Anthony Day - Blockchain Partner, IBM -  blockchain in crypto, NFTs and other trends and innovations

Asmau Ahmed - Senior Leader, X, the moonshot factory - she posts about her company’s latest work - robots, access to clean and reliable power, improving availability of safe drinking water (by harvesting water from air)

Many of these people are consciously or unconsciously also posting about who they are and how they got to where they are - and perhaps, where they want to go.

Avery Akkineni - President, VaynerNFTT which is Gary Vaynerchuk’s new NFT venture.

Bernard Marr - Founder & CEO, Bernard Marr & Co. - a self-defined futurist, he writes cars, phones, delivery robots, trends in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Cathy Hackl - Chief Metaverse Officer, Futures Intelligence Group - how many CMOs have you heard of so far? Her agency helps companies prepare for the metaverse.

Martin Harbech worked at Google and Amazon prior to Meta (formerly Facebook) and shares news and updates from the tech industry. You might read about remote truck drivers, photorealistic avatars, or haptic gloves research. He also shares insights on new companies and the future of various industries.

Educating in the Metaverse

AR use

Using augmented reality to see what is not physically there.

There is not much mention of education in all the discussions this year about the metaverse, but it is thought that it will better allow students to have a cyber-physical learning experience. The virtual world will merge with the real one more and more seamlessly.

For the past 20 months, there has been a global educational experiment in online learning. But don't think that what has happened in education because of the COVID-19 pandemic is an accurate account or prediction of what teaching and learning are at their best, or what they will become in a metaverse. The forced move to online education was awkward for most schools, students and teachers, particularly in the first two semesters. By the spring of 2021, all parties were better adapted to learning online. For the fall 2021 semester, many schools were able to go back to their pre-pandemic methodologies and content delivery. The best schools and teachers have not abandoned what was learned in those online days, and for them learning has continued to shift between online and in person. Online delivery has become more of an integral component of education. The whole move online in 2020 and 2021 should lead to more inclusive and creative pedagogical solutions.

My earlier post on the building of the metaverse did not consider education. No one should think that what we now call online education looks anything like the metaverse. Actually, some online worlds from decades past, such as Second Life, are closer to the metaverse than current online education. The building game Minecraft is enjoyed by millions of young and old learners and has found a place in higher education too. Both of those products have been used to enhance lectures, allow virtual field trips and make students creators. I took tours of campuses in Second Life at the start of this century. They were crude by today's tech standards but they didn't require a clunky headset. I did it once in front of a giant screen and it was more "immersive" but no metaverse.

Current virtual reality (VR) simulations allow students in medicine, engineering, and architecture to practice skills that are difficult to rehearse in real life.

Most followers of the metaverse will say that some forms of it are already here. I discussed in the previous article some companies that already offer applications and platforms that fit part of the definitions (and there are multiple definitions as of now) of the metaverse.  Another company that is making inroads to educational use is Roblox. In its current version, it looks very much like a game, which is often a serious deterrent for educators to consider using technology. But they are expanding the tools offered and giving users and developers more opportunities to create experiences of their own.  with an emphasis on safety.

Roblox has more than 203 million monthly active users in their virtual world. Some might call this platform a "proto-metaverse." But so far, it lacks the VR and AR that are part of all definitions of the metaverse. There is also caution required here for safety since many of those users are children. Roblox CEO David Baszucki may have used some hyperbole in saying during an interview that his company’s business model predicted the metaverse 17 years ago.

The media is already countering any metaverse visioning with cautionary tales of the dangers it might also offer. It ranges from fears that predators might use it to lure children. Since the porn industry has been at the lead with many technologies from VHS tapes and DVDs to online video, there's a good chance that they will want in on the metaverse. A lot of warnings currently come from a lack of understanding about what a metaverse will look like, and the misperception that somehow Zuckerberg and Meta will be THE metaverse rather than a part of it.

John Preston (Professor of Sociology, University of Essex) believes that some aspects of the metaverse are already in universities. His fear is that it will offer revolutionary potential for greater profits to be made in higher education. His research on digital technologies in higher education shows that a metaverse could monetize the student experience even more than now and also exploit the work of academics.

Jaron Lanier, who was an early promoter of VR and founded the first VR company (VPL Research) and made Virtual Reality the term for the head-mounted display has changed his mind on the metaverse. I attended a workshop he did at a conference in the late 1990s and wore his headset and put on the wired gloves to walk through a virtual world while moving around a small room that had a few ramps and objects that became something else in my headset view. It was pretty cool. And pretty awkward. I heard him speak at an edtech conference around 2010 when he had published his "manifesto" You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier's wonder-filled dreams for what these new technologies as we turned into the 21st century could provide for humanity had become nightmares.  His 2018 book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now indicates that the dreams are still nightmares.  In a recent Forbes article, Lanier says, "If you run [the metaverse] on a business model that’s similar to the one that Facebook runs on, it’ll destroy humanity. I’m not saying that rhetorically. That is a literal and specific prediction that humanity could not survive that."

While some people may be creating a virtual research center ecosystem using Microsoft Teams, others are suggesting that we need to forget the tech and focus on human beings, while some feel we need to use digital simulations to prepare students for future careers.

My own metaverse predictions are that it is farther away than the current buzz seems to indicate, and that augmented reality (AR) will play a greater role than virtual reality (VR) - unless they can get rid of that clunky VR headgear. I see that Meta, which owns Oculus (known initially for making hose clunky goggles) has dropped the Oculus branding. Maybe they will also drop the headgear.

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.

 

 

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.

 

AI Ghosts

You may familiar with the term "ghosting" as it refers to the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. It is often used in social media contexts.I have written earlier about people ghosting jobs and colleges and also about professional ghosting. This post is about ghosts that may be closer to the supernatural type.

An episode at wsj.com/podcasts on ghosts created using artificial intelligence (AI) are digital personas. The podcast suggests that creating these personas could be a kind of "immortality." Perhaps someday you might have the opportunity to have yourself recreated via AI but there is also the idea of creating people from the past. The podcast asks, "What if Abraham Lincoln could address Congress today? Or if you could have dinner with your deceased ancestors?"

There is interest in doing this from researchers and also from entrepreneurs. Is this an AI-enhanced sophisticated version of something like the hologram of Tupac that performed at Coachella a few years? That is not the ultimate vision for this technology. Researchers are looking to go beyond chatbots and animatronic robots.

It would be done using all the data that a person creates or unconsciously generates: social media posts, emails, texts, voice and video recordings. You have also probably seen examples of actors (alive or dead) being inserted into new films using a combination of previously shot footage and new footage created using existing data and some AI magic.

One startup working on this that was referenced is HereAfter AI. They are not creating "ghosts," holograms, robots or something that looks like your grandfather sitting across from you. What they are doing is taking what data they can get from a life story and using it to make a replica of that person that's embedded in a smart speaker. It means you can have a "conversation" with that person using a smart speaker. Microsoft has patented a conversational chatbot that uses some of the aforementioned data sources. from things, like social media and other things to create a chatbot that could converse and talk in the personality of some specific person.

EinsteinOf course, this is not the sci-fi AI ghost that you might be imagining. That version is not in the near future. That AI Abe Lincoln is not going to be able to be a great modern-day President. An AI Albert Einstein isn't going to be able to finally come up with a unified field theory. With historical figures, we are often lacking video, audio and certainly social media and we would have to rely on text. Having an AI ghost of me even with all of my digital footprints doesn't feel like immortality to me.

But don't get caught unprepared. Start curating your digital persona now.

 

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.