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Who Needs Reality When You've Got the Metaverse?

Avatars instead of profiles.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently unveiled the company's new name: Meta. The announcement was viewed by many as an act of crisis management aimed at diverting attention from the negative issues recently surrounding Facebook. Problematic content-monitoring policies, and claims that it benefits from social polarization, are adding to the company's reputational challenges. The windfall of the "Facebook Files," a series of document-based investigations based on leaks by former employee Francis Haugen, brought the company to a low point in its history. Zuckerberg may hope to separate Meta from the negative associations with the Facebook name.

But the main news involved new details the company revealed about its "Metaverse" vision. The Metaverse is Zuckerberg's vision of a virtual reality in which people play, talk, communicate, work, and purchase products. At this point, the vision seems ambitious but, most, its purpose is unclear. However, Zuckerberg is often two steps ahead of everyone else in terms of his ability to understand the human psyche.

What Do We Do When Machines Take Our Jobs?

The gloomy predictions about the future of employment have not gone unnoticed by Zuckerberg and his people. He understands that within a few decades, robots could replace humans in almost every possible profession. It's estimated that between one-third and one-half of jobs in developed economies could be handed over to computer software. Taxi and bus drivers, insurance agents, doctors, and teachers all could be replaced by AI. After all, an experienced doctor relies very much on pattern recognition—and what's more skilled at recognizing patterns than artificial intelligence?

Policymakers don't spend much time examining the risks involved in creating machines with increasing intelligence, but they should. The labor market is about to undergo a revolution. Machine learning algorithms will be able to absorb more information, access it more easily and quickly, and translate it into actions much faster than people. Zuckerberg may have asked himself, if machines are capable of doing almost any job that humans can, what will humans do with their spare time?

One typical answer is we will be free to engage in leisure activities (setting the complete loss of income aside as a topic for another day). But having too much leisure time is problematic; work plays a vital role in ensuring a strong sense of well-being.

Governments—and society as a whole—aren't coping well with the acceleration in the developments of artificial intelligence and robotics. Although they are investing more and more money into the development of advanced technologies, they are not dealing with the psychological consequences and problems. Lots of effort is invested in deciphering the development of artificial intelligence, but much less in deciphering human consciousness and its implications. Politicians have more urgent issues to deal with right now.

Who Needs Reality When You've Got Virtual Reality?

Zuckerberg took on the task of creating an alternative to these scenarios. He understands that there is a lot of money to be printed here. Humanity is facing the most important decisions in its history, and the political system consciously or unconsciously chooses not to intervene. Politicians appear not at all concerned with the question of where the technology is going, leaving it entirely in the hands of market forces, or, rather, in the hands of Facebook.

The big question Facebook is asking itself is how to keep the masses of people from going insane out of sheer boredom after losing their jobs to technology, and its answer is the Metaverse.

The virtual reality that Zuckerberg develops could make it possible to regulate the moods of human beings, and provide escapism and venting for all sorts of human primitive fantasies. The rewards of human beings will no longer be in the physical reality but the virtual one. We are starting to see it today: People have less sex, fewer personal interactions, and less physical recreation. Children are willing to spend hours in these realities. Today it is still a screen to sit in front of, but Facebook is developing a world that can replace the physical one and allow for real experiences, as well as ones that you could never have in the physical world. The center of life will gradually move toward virtual reality, and world rulers, Google and Facebook executives, will be able to sleep soundly because no one is going to launch a revolution against them.

Avatars, Not Profiles

We are approaching the point where Google, Facebook, or Microsoft will know us better than we know ourselves, and will actually be able to make most of the decisions for our behavior. Not just banal choices like which book to read, but also where to work and who to marry. Zuckerberg embodies all of this in the avatars he's developing. Those avatars (digital duplicates) will be just like today's profile pictures but instead of a static image, these will be vivid three-dimensional representations of our expressions and gestures. “They are going to make the interactions much richer than anything possible on today's internet," says Zuckerberg.

This is what I suspect Zuckerberg plans: An avatar that will make all the critical decisions in our place so that Facebook will have direct access not only to our profiles but also to how each of us thinks, processes information, and makes decisions. He may ultimately be interested in taking the story of our lives from us and rewriting it as an avatar representing us. As it stands now, there is no force that is taking action to stop it, or intends to.

More from Liraz Margalit Ph.D.
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