Big data, Facebook and why UMich students should consider the metaverse

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Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become a “metaverse business”. In August, Facebook launched Horizon Workrooms, an app where users can attach Facebook’s Oculus VR headset and attend 3D virtual meetings as a personalized avatar. While Zuckerberg’s first foray into immersive tech may be awkward right now, his belief in the future of the Metaverse isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Other Big Tech leaders such as Tim Sweeney of Epic Games and Microsoft are talking about the metaverse as a very real possibility in the near future.

So what is the metaverse? No one knows exactly, but there is a lot of work on the subject written by venture capitalist Matthew Ball. For those who don’t want to dig into Ball’s website, sci-fi works like Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” or Netflix’s Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” present some compelling ideas about how the metaverse might adapt to our day. lives today. Imagine ending a meeting in Workrooms at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, then instantly transporting yourself to a virtual mall, where you spend hours looking for a new pair of cute stockings. The metaverse is the overall structure that links each space into a coherent and navigable whole. It’s no surprise that Zuckerberg wants an early entry into the Metaverse. The sooner Facebook can create the most popular platform on the metaverse, the more advertisers will be able to profit from advertisers. If the amount of personal data Facebook is currently collecting is alarming, imagine the possibilities for marketing companies once they have access to every word we say, every gesture we make, and every place we visit in the world. virtual world.

At this point, the metaverse should look like the worst dystopia imaginable. It is essentially a digital universe designed and controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, in which advertisers can tap into the field of neuroscience for even greater profits than they already are. Why don’t we turn our backs and run away screaming?

We love social media and at the same time recognize how damaging it is to our mental health. It seems impossible to extricate oneself from our online social networks for fear of being left behind and falling behind. Once someone comes up with a successful social platform on the Metaverse, a similar network effect will occur, causing more people to spend time on the latest fad provided by the market.

Assuming, then, that the metaverse (with all of its associated problems) is inevitable, the question becomes how should we answer? Already, there are voices in the tech industry thinking about innovative ways to deal with the potential ethical dilemmas that arise when deciding to write algorithms. Should our technology filter our view of the real world? Will the metaverse give computer engineers an unbearable decision burden? How will living in a manufactured world impact how we expose our children to the world? It’s good to know that today’s professionals seriously think about the social implications of their work, but that’s not enough.

Here at the University of Michigan, we have a rich tradition of excellence in technological innovation. Our computer science, engineering and various other technology-focused departments produce top graduates who are successful and accomplish great feats in their respective careers. Larry Page is perhaps the most notable example, but he is certainly not the only one. In the 1980s, UM Emeritus Professor Doug Van Houweling led a project to rebuild a network of computers from the National Science Foundation that arguably invented the Internet. We are truly the leaders and the best.

Now, if we are to live up to the reputation of our school, then we must direct our professional efforts towards the way forward for the Metaverse. Computer science graduates need to think in detail about the impacts caused by the code they write and advocate for positive and useful developments in our technology. Business students should invest and found metaverse businesses that aim to improve the social well-being of their consumers, even if it reduces their profits. Political science students should advocate for changes in government technology policy that best reflect their values ​​and work for the future they want to live in. We have the ability to turn the metaverse into something beautiful, and the responsibility to make it as beneficial to the good audience as we can.

Alex Yee is an opinion columnist and can be reached at @ alyee @ umich.edu.


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