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.