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Across the Metaverse

Is your future in the ’embedded internet’?

Can you travel across the Metaverse? Should you?

If you ever saw The Matrix, a 1999 movie starring Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburn, you might guess roughly what this is about. In the movie, self-aware machines have trapped the human race in a virtual reality simulation.

Laurence Fishburne Doesn't Know Why 'Matrix 4' Left Morpheus Out | IndieWire

Well, now a real life version of The Matrix could be coming our way. Facebook and Microsoft have made much noise lately about their versions: an “embedded internet” meant to render the current internet obsolete.

Facebook’s Version of the Metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, calls his version the “Metaverse”. A “people-first internet”, it would rely less on current forms of social media and browser search. Instead, it would rely far more on VR and AR connections that seem almost to be alternate worlds. Zuckerberg has committed himself so fiercely to this vision, he renamed Facebook as ‘Meta’.

At a recent Oculus Connect event, Zuckerberg’s troops demonstrated seamless connectivity between some of its apps, such as Messenger, and Oculus VR and AR devices. Zuckerberg emphasizes social media and personal use.

Microsoft’s Version

Microsoft, by contrast, gears its version to business and professional use. The company claims to have built a collection of tools for enabling businesses to create “immersive spaces”. Via AR and VR, these tools will facilitate more advanced online meetings. Some apps enable ‘moving’ and interacting in virtual factories and retail outlets. These apps go by the name of Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces.

Microsoft calls the software for this project “Mesh”.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, dismisses Meta’s version as unrealistic. “The public perception of The Metaverse, as a futuristic world where plugged-in people recreate their whole lives online, is still a ways off. But business uses are starting to be available now.”

What Should You Believe?

Of course, we can’t predict the future. However, we can make some educated guesses. The Metaverse is unlikely to be as sinister as alarmists predict. And it’s unlikely to benefit us as much as its promoters predict.

Every new communication medium can draw us in and tempt us to abandon reality. All can be addictive. This was true of the original internet. It was true of television. It was even true of radio. We decide how much we’re going to immerse ourselves in any medium. We can walk away if we want to.


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No matter how much you get, you want more. You’ve always wanted more, and you always will.

No, this isn’t about your love life. It’s about your insatiable demand for internet bandwidth. No matter how much you get, it will never be enough. This is mainly because as the pipeline expands, you will think of ever more material to fill it with.

What Makes the Web Different from Older Technologies

In this respect, the internet differs from previous means of communications. In over a hundred years of home telephone service, bandwidth usage for it changed hardly at all. Innovation brought modest improvements in convenience and sound quality, without fundamentally altering the nature of voice transmissions. The internet, though, is constantly evolving. Increasing bandwidth promotes innovation, and innovation promotes demand for increased bandwidth.

Increased bandwidth doesn’t just improve the speed of e-mail. It makes entirely new functions possible. At the dawn of the internet age, few of us would have guessed that it would become a major medium for commerce, telephony, streaming video, or social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Now these uses are so commonplace, we could scarcely imagine living without them.


Technology is forcing massive changes in education. A few decades ago, knowledge was quarantined, and difficult to find. Seeking information in libraries was tedious and cumbersome, and the most important and timely information was in the hands of corporate and government elites.

Now, though, we carry nearly all of the world’s knowledge in our pockets. Whatever we want to know, we can usually find it in a few seconds. Education is now mostly guidance in what to look for.

It was inevitable that greater access to information would affect demand for formal schooling.

MOOCs and Home Schooling

As college tuition rates skyrocket climb into the stratosphere, and millions of students take on crippling debt, and with many of the most prominent universities mired in stifling intellectual conformity, demand for alternatives multiplies. Multiple open online courses (MOOC) are one answer. They cost far less than standard university courses, and are often at least as effective, perhaps more effective, in communicating course content. Unlike textbooks, material on the web can be updated constantly. Students can log in for real-time class discussions on video, download their assignments, and upload their homework.

The web is also becoming vital to home schooling (elementary and secondary levels). Parents can tailor course content to the needs and aptitudes of their children, and students can learn at their own paces, without being either rushed or slowed by the learning abilities of classmates.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

We have learning tools that previous generations could scarcely have imagined. No longer bound by school schedules, we can learn as we need to. Without waiting for others to teach us, we can constantly upgrade our professional skills online.

Virtual reality (VR)  and augmented reality (AR) can hugely enhance effectiveness of online training.

VR is digital simulation of 3D environments.  With VR, you’re not held to one fixed perspective, as when you’re watching a movie.  You can look around and ‘move’ in the digital environmental.

At a trade show in Barcelona, Spain, a reporter climbed into a control booth owned by a heavy machinery firm. Wearing a VR helmet and manipulating levers in the booth, he operated an earth mover in real time in Sweden, 1500 miles away. Think, then, of VR’s potential alter construction, inspection, and manufacturing. It has already changed training for skilled trades. We could learn surgery, piloting of aircraft, and other skills without all of the risks that come with learning them in real environments.

Augmented reality is the overlay of a digital environment over a real one. With AR, an apprentice mechanic or plumber can see a repair diagram laid over real pipe or a real engine. The AR app provides constant feedback on his work, so he can see and feel how the task should be done.

AR and VR can revolutionize education, because they help develop habit or ‘muscle memory’. When he tries his new skills in real environments, the student already understands them from memory. VR and AR are much more effective for skill training than written manuals could ever be.

Of course, such forms of education require huge amounts of bandwidth. For this reason, among others, we’ll always demand more.

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Conscience and Emerging Technology

We want to believe that technical development is unalloyed blessing. As our tools  get better, out lives get better. What could possible go wrong? Why should any new technology trouble anyone’s conscience.

In fact, many of our the most prominent voices in politics and the press predict the imminent arrival of a secular Eden. Mankind’s third great technological leap, they say,  is already on our doorstep. It will bring universal prosperity. With abundant food, water, clean energy, and leisure for all, there will be nothing to fight over. Peace will reign over the whole Earth. The long-promised Utopia, the pundits say, at last is at hand.

Is this too simplistic, though? Should we avoid some types of innovation? Should technological development ever trouble conscience? Should we worry that our quest for better living will pave the road to Hell?

Some analysts argue that emerging technologies bring new temptations. Conscience should not make us cowards, afraid of any new tool or technique. But many emerging technologies entail thorny ethical questions. Driverless cars, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and gene-editing could be horribly destructive if used in the wrong way.

Here, we will examine the ethical dilemmas presented by just two emerging technologies: virtual reality and facial mapping.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality:  

Since the invention of the printing press, pornographers have been quick to exploit every innovation in information technology. Virtual Reality, combined with sensors attached to the user’s body, could create an immersive experience nearly indistinguishable from actual sex. VR lovers would be physically perfect, always available when wanted, and never present when unwanted. Will most of us prefer VR  mates to flawed flesh-and-blood lovers? Will we stop mating? If we do, does the human race have a future?

VR experiences in general, offering realism conventional movies couldn’t match, could become extremely addictive. Will millions of people refuse to leave their VR environments to address problems in the relatively boring and colorless real world?

Information Technologies:  

When I was a small child, I often heard people say, “The camera doesn’t lie.” It wasn’t true then, and it’s even less true now. We can lie far more effectively with cameras than without them. Every improvement in information technology can augment deception.

With Face2Face, a digital facial capture and mapping tool, a couple of wags overlaid real-time facial mapping over source video of Donald Trump, making him seem to say hilariously preposterous things– not that he’s incapable of doing so on his own.

With Face2Face, other CGI tools, and advanced audio editing, we could convincingly put words in anyone’s mouth. We could fake almost any event involving almost any character. With such video and audio manipulation in the wrong hands, we may be unable to trust any online videos, so how will we know what’s accurate? Do we have to read source code to be sure?

More to come…

In a future post, we will explore other innovations that provoke vexing questions of conscience. Among these will be gene-editing, radical life extension, driverless cars, and artificial intelligence.

(To keep abreast of technology, you need reliable internet service. Talk to us. We can help.)

(The accompanying image is a still from the Roman Polanski movie: Macbeth.)