Mark is taking on the world (the virtual one that is)!
‘Meta’ it is, the new name for ‘Facebook’ company. A name chosen to reflect the new focus on Metaverse.
What is Metaverse, you might ask?
To put it simply, Metaverse is a virtual environment where people can interact with each other and with other things using different devices (wearables, in particular).
A few days ago, I visited GITEX which is a major international technology exhibition held in Dubai every year. One of my main objectives was to investigate and learn more about the advancements in Metaverse. I could not find what I was looking for and the six companies that crossed my path did not present the technology in an intriguing way. In fact, that area hardly had any foot traffic when I was there at a supposedly busy day and time.
During Facebook/Meta’s Connect event on Thursday, 28th October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg gave us a vivid glimpse of the future. Zuckerberg and his executives explained that R&D efforts and product development plans are well on their way to avail Metaverse capabilities to the masses. Be it through training courses, affordable rates or the interoperability of products so that they are not restricted to a particular brand. Meta, however, realizes that it cannot do what’s required alone and is inviting everyone to collaborate so that Metaverse reaches its described potential.
What does this entail?
One of the main differences between Metaverse and the current virtual environments (that use avatars) is that it focuses on depth, be it depth in the person’s respective emotions or dimensions. It seems that the goal is to generate digital twins of people to enable deeper interactions in the metaverses. To achieve this, end users will need to upload 3D avatars (virtual representations of themselves) to reflect near real-life emotions and body gestures. A 2D picture is no longer enough to upload as an avatar; while technically possible, it does not serve the purpose of metaverses.
How are metaverses useful?
A few of the obvious use cases, following watching the keynote, include:
- Being able to join charity marathons virtually.
- Being able to workout virtually with friends or personal trainers.
- Virtually learning a new game, physical skill or sport!
- Virtual surgery practice.
- E-learning through metaverses that zoom into the human body, atoms, space, etc. to visualize complicated scientific concepts.
- E-learning through metaverses that replicate historical events and places.
- Personal stylists virtually assisting clients in shopping for their clothes.
- Interior designers virtually assisting clients in shopping for their furniture, home accessories, paint, etc. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see the end result before spending time and money?!
- Attending digital museums and art galleries!
- Hybrid work setups through metaverses could very well be the answer to Dubai’s traffic issue or any metropolitan city for that matter!
Will we lose our humanity?
Will we get lost in virtual worlds?
I remember when the wireless headphones first came out, I used to see people walking around and looking like they are talking to themselves. If we start wearing normal looking wearables, such as sunglasses, that are equipped with access to metaverses, then the same headphones scene will be repeated.
We already complain about our inability to disconnect from our smartphones to properly connect with people during outings. A lot of people no longer know how to look someone in the eye throughout a conversation. Everyone is lowering their head and sinking into their phones. With metaverses, people might start indulging in their metaverses instead of enjoying nature and physical places; they might be even joined by those physically nearby!
Also, if parents are currently complaining about having to purchase tablets for their kids in order to join their online learning, wait until they are required to purchase VR/AR sets to access metaverses where the online learning has shifted.
I also imagine that the new teen obsession and peer pressure will become around who has a bigger, more expensive digital wardrobe in the Metaverse!
What about security and privacy?
Zuckerberg brought up the issue of security but the examples he provided such as the ability to block unwanted people, choosing when to join the metaverse or isolating oneself in a virtual bubble are not really the type of security issues that people are worried about.
Facebook does not have the best history when it comes to how it exploits user data and there are many criticisms from lawmakers and regulators regarding its algorithms and suppression of content. In addition to that, small and medium businesses (SMBs), have been hit by many temporary or permanent suspensions of their social media accounts (whether on Facebook or Instagram) triggered by AI algorithms while running paid ads or posting content. These are just a few examples of why Facebook has not earned the trust of end users but there are more serious ones that I haven’t mentioned.
To be fair, Zuckerberg did mention later in his keynote that issues such as identity theft need to be tackled. This is indeed a serious issue and one that people would like to see handled with care. Can Meta really incorporate the necessary security measures into its infrastructure? Will the regulators and lawmakers have a say and put in place guidance to avoid data breaches?
Zuckerberg stressed that privacy, interoperability, open standards and safety need to be built in the technology from day 1. But that is something beyond his control and urging people to do so does not guarantee that they will. Therefore, everyone affected by this technology must play their role.
What is expected from everyone to make all this work?
Regulators are expected to:
- Catch up with technology for once and put in place regulations that guarantee the protection of people’s identities and privacy. There are still a few years until the work on this technology materializes.
- Develop a framework (for developers, designers, creators and entrepreneurs) to ensure there’s a code of conduct to follow while developing metaverses. Regulators must ensure that the framework is realistic and does not restrict the advancement of this technology.
- Build the required network infrastructure.
- Raise awareness on the pros and cons of this technology.
Developers, designers, creators and entrepreneurs are expected to:
- Stay updated with the advancements in Metaverse.
- Follow good ethics while developing and using the technology even if there are no regulatory restrictions and guidance in place.
- Ensure that the developed work takes into consideration data privacy and protection.
End users are expected to:
- Learn about the technology.
- Know their rights.
- Protect their identity and personal data by not oversharing.
- Follow good ethics when using the technology (and not feel free to act differently than they would in the physical society).
These are just a few initial thoughts on Metaverse and Facebook/Meta’s keynote.
Will Facebook/Meta management survive legal battles to see Metaverse come to life?!
Regardless, I urge everyone to watch the Facebook Connect event as this is one of the few times everyone has been invited to understand and participate in shaping the future. Allocate 1.5 hours to watch the event as there are a lot of things to grasp.
Hana Abou Khreibeh is the founder of HAK Technology Hub, an IT consultancy and software services company helping SMEs and Solopreneurs with their technology and data needs. HAK Technology Hub develops strategies that ensure technology, business processes and data workflows are optimized to save resources (staff, time and money).