As “metaverse” became the buzzword of 2021, Chinese tech giants are also looking for opportunities in what might be the next phase in the Internet’s evolution.
The company’s annual developers’ conference, Baidu Create 2021, took place last month in Xirang, which is its take on the metaverse.
Users must construct avatars in order to enter the digital sphere. After that, users are free to explore and interact with other avatars in a variety of ways. Including attending conferences and taking virtual tours.
The annual developers’ conference of Baidu represented China’s first event held entirely in the metaverse.
The Communication University of China (CUC) opened a virtual campus in Xirang earlier this month. Making it China’s first academic institution to do so.
Using 3D modeling, street view data, and other digital tools, the CUC digital art department reconstructed the campus. Students and guests can use VR headgear, mobile phones, and laptops to explore the virtual campus.
The tech giants Huawei and Beijing Shougang Park collaborated on a metaverse experience activity earlier this month. Users can access a new world by scanning a QR code with their cellphones in the park, where they can see a robot band perform and watch a virtual light show. AR group warfare games allow users to fully immerse themselves in a gaming experience.
The tech giant Nubia Technology set up a professional team to focus in the metaverse
Recently, ZTE subsidiary Nubia Technical Co., Ltd. announced the formation of a professional technology team focused on metaverse hardware.
NetEase and the government of Sanya, in the south China island state of Hainan, signed a strategic partnership deal last month. As part of the agreement, NetEase will establish its Hainan headquarters and create a metaverse industrial base project in Sanya.
NetEase’s founder and CEO, Ding Lei, stated in a financial report meeting last November that the company is ready for the metaverse. “When the starting pistol goes off, we might be faster than everyone else,” Ding added.
In its immersive activity system Yaotai, Netease demonstrated the metaverse’s muscles. The 16th International Symposium on Biomineralization was held in Yaotai in August, marking the debut of the immersive activity system.
Yaotai increased the sense of reality and virtual meeting immersion
During the November shopping rush last year, e-commerce behemoth Alibaba organized a “Metaverse Art Exhibition” on its Tmall/Taobao mobile app. Customers might acquire a free digital collection with the purchase of a limited-edition physical item, such as a Burberry scarf.
A digital avatar of Beethoven conducted the “metaverse symphony,” which included players playing virtual instruments incorporating brands such as the Bobbi Brown trumpet and Coca-Cola drums. These virtual products are also available for purchase by consumers.
Last month, Tencent announced the formal debut of TMELAND, China’s first virtual music festival. Users can create virtual images, chat and engage with one another, and enjoy immersive aural entertainment that blends reality and the virtual world via virtual live streaming and virtual concerts.
Elon Musk Takes His Transparency Wars to ‘Unwanted’ WEF World Government
Twitter CEO Elon Musk may have turned down a Davos invite, per his contested claim, but he did not necessarily sit out the proceedings. The chief twit has been chatty about this year’s edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF), questioning its legitimacy as the talking shop for solutions to global problems.
“WEF is increasingly becoming an unelected world government that the people never asked for and don’t want,” Musk tweeted. He was responding to a video of World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and other high ranking officials discussing the organization’s new “Global Collaboration Village.”
On day one of the event, Musk sarcastically responded to a buzzword, “‘Master the Future’ doesn’t sound ominous at all,” and added, “How is WEF/Davos even a thing? Are they trying to be the boss of Earth!?” This year’s meetings ran from Jan. 16 – 20.
WEF is increasingly becoming an unelected world government that the people never asked for and don’t want
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 18, 2023
Musk criticizes WEF global agenda
Musk’s criticism of the Davos is an extension of his criticism of institutional opacity. The Twitter Files, a retrospective look into the tech behemoth before Musk’s takeover, includes revelations that the company ranked right-leaning tweets lower without making this information available to users.
Musk, a self-styled “free-speech absolutist”, has posed as the broom of the system since he started his hostile bid for Twitter. He demanded transparency from the company not just for his own due diligence but for Twitter users. The billionaire has also accommodated dissenters on Twitter in symbolic correction of mute-happy Meta platforms and others.
Making good on his transparency crusade from the helm of his new acquistion, he recently announced, “Twitter will publish tweet recommendation code and make account or tweet status visible no later than next month. Transparency builds trust.”
WEF, known by its Davos synecdoche, is a gathering of global who’s who, meeting annually to discuss solutions to world problems, including the ecological crisis and the social aspects of new technology. While it is made up of unelected leaders, as Musk points out, the guest list is remarkable for its star power, including heads of state and tech magnates.
Davos’ emphasis on global cooperation, everyone speaking like they are walking on egg shells, may also account for the mercurial billionaire’s dismissiveness. Musk is known for speaking his mind, however unpalatable. Like many businesspeople at home with the bare-knuckle language of competition rather than diplomacy.
“Master the Future” doesn’t sound ominous at all … 🙄
How is WEF/Davos even a thing? Are they trying to be the boss of Earth!?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2023
In the heat of corporate rivalry, Musk has savaged Davos’ upcoming “Global Collaboration Village” in the metaverse powered by Meta. WEF founder Schwab’s announcement of Interpol’s contribution to the security side of the Global Collaboration Village does not help.
That’s given the so-called tech-intelligence complex whereby major technology companies are accused of back-channeling user data to security agencies, particularly in the U.S and China (The Permanent Record, Edward Snowden, 2019).
Parallels between Big Tech monopoly and WEF
As he angled towards his Twitter takeover, Musk said he wanted to push the company towards free expression and questioned permanent bans and content restrictions.
To hear Musk tell it, in having content “mysteriously promoted or demoted with no insight into what’s going on”, Twitter was failing the transparency test. It includes the erstwhile secrecy around the identities of the makers of such decisions.
This goes for the other tech companies whose drive to moderate content also unilaterally and unaccountably amplified their power over speech. Davos may well spell a parallel, a talking shop of the powerful deciding the direction the world should take without consulting or representing the people they speak for.
“Having a black box algorithm promote some things and not other things, I think this can be quite dangerous,” Musk said of Twitter, an analogy which may well hold against mega-rich and mega-powerful clubs calling the shots.
In defense of the WEF, while it can be characterized as a high-powered exclusive club, it is also the place where the “big boys” get to interface with activists and lobbyists supposedly from the grassroots and alternative campaigns.
Elon Musk’s call for Twitter to publish its code on Github was classic Tesla. In 2006, he published “The Secret Master Plan of Tesla” detailing his strategy to make affordable self-driving cars a reality. In 2014, he also published Tesla patents.
However, his critics cite his prolific use of non-disclosure arrangements and punishing of vehicle safety whistleblowers like former employee Cristina Balan as a proof of double standards.
His handling of Twitter Files has also been criticized as populist posturing against the former leaders which may well be a decoy away from his own opaque and individualized decision-making.
The World Economic Forum should control the world
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 18, 2023
Klaus Schwab founded the World Economic Forum in 1971. Elon Musk ran a poll on Twitter asking users whether the WEF should control the world. Over 2.42 million people voted and an overwhelming majority of 86% voted “No”.
Virtual Landlords Create Class System in the Metaverse
Plots of land in metaverse communities are being rented out for considerable fees, leading to a new class system of haves and have-nots.
Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, is among the observers of this phenomenon. Speaking to Wired on Wednesday Rosedale expressed his belief that, “The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is of great concern.”
The new class is virtual
Virtual land owners are seeking to profit from their virtual real estate by renting the space to others. In the virtual community of Decentraland tracts of land are advertised for rent, with one prospective landlord advertising their city center plot for a hopeful 10,000 MANA ($6,400) a day.
While such a premium price may strike as less than realistic, there is a genuine demand for renting virtual property in the metaverse. Mastercard and Heineken are among the brands that have already hired virtual land as they seek to jump on metaverse hype train to better promote their products.
The issue that some take with this is its potential to recreate existing class systems in the virtual world. The metaverse could end up recreating the ‘virtual twin’ of the worst elements of the real world, rather than providing an escape from it.
Sam Hamilton, the creative director of Decentraland acknowledges that this process is already happening.
“A lot of human nature will be reflected in the metaverse,” said Hamilton but went on to argue that little could be done about it as, “Some people will always find ways to game systems and generate wealth.”
Although the argument can certainly be may be made that this wealth consolidation is of no great concern, some industry insiders disagree.
Philip Rosedale of Second Life said, “The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is of great concern,” going on to add that since there is no ongoing maintenance costs to owning virtual land, the profits are potentially far greater. This may ultimately lead to “destructive” wealth creation concentrated in the hands of too few people.
In the longer view, the concentration of wealth can become a destabilizing force.
The professors weigh in
Roger Burrows, a professor of digital culture and social inequality at the University of Bristol, and Vassilis Galanos, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Edinburgh both have concerns about the current state of digital land ownership.
According to Burrows the ownership of virtual land is “profoundly political.”
Burrows points to real-world examples such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel who keep “the great unwashed, the difficult and the messy,” at arms distance. The professor goes on to argue that these gated communities eventually lead to “misunderstanding of the world” and “fear of otherness.”
Galanos sees the development as a gamification of class struggle, a place where people can go to play the game of business.
Ultimately Galanose believes that owning land in metaverse is a game for the wealthy to play.
“It’s like playing Monopoly,” he says.
These criticisms seem to forget the fact that when Decentraland first sold its land plots they were going for as little as $20 a piece.
Microsoft Makes Big Moves in AI – Is the Firm out to Dominate Our AI Future?
Microsoft Corporation is making big moves in artificial intelligence (AI), part of a deliberate plan by the U.S. tech giant to continue to take a lead in emerging consumer tech while positioning itself as the next dominant force in the future of AI.
The tech company is doubling down on its $1 billion investment three years ago in OpenAI, creators of ChatGPT, with another $10 billion investment. Microsoft has been building its future on artificial intelligence over the past six years, according to CEO Satya Nadella.
At the time, he talked about the importance of “more intelligent apps and services” during an interview with The Verge. A few months later in the same year, Microsoft launched its chat-based interface “conversation as a platform” service.
The firm believed similar interfaces would takeover as the primary way used by humans to interact with the Internet or find information. Now Microsoft is planning to integrate ChatGPT into Bing with a $10 billion investment into the disruptive bot’s parent company, OpenAI. The feature could be added by end of March, reported The Information.
Microsoft to influence OpenAI development
Microsoft will take a 49% stake in a revised OpenAI structure. It would also receive 75% of OpenAI’s profit until such a time when the firm recovers its full investment. The new funding round, which has drawn interest from some of the leading venture funds on Wall Street, values OpenAI at $29 billion.
This is a significant investment for OpenAI, founded in 2015 by Y-Combinator president Sam Altman and others. It could help the company forge ahead with its growth initiatives that include the further development of ChatGPT and other AI-related projects.
For Microsoft, it could mark an important step towards gaining a foothold in AI. By working directly with OpenAI, a pioneer in the industry, the tech firm would gain influence over the direction of OpenAI’s tools – something that’s already disrupting our lives everyday.
Artificial general intelligence refers to everyday use cases for AI including communication, research and productivity. OpenAI’s selling point is making artificial intelligence widely accessible as well as preventing its takeover by bad actors.
Microsoft forayed into the space with a $1 billion funding which secured it the majority stake in OpenAI in 2019. Now it is looking to tighten its grip on the company on the back of ChatGPT’s massive popularity.
Founded by billionaire Bill Gates, the Washington-based corporation also plans to integrate OpenAI’s chatbot technology into other products, including Microsoft Word and Outlook. Uniquely responding to queries in conversational language, AI-powered ChapGPT promises a whole new way to experience search.
Microsoft solidifies AI position, as Google slackens
Microsoft is solidifying its takeover at a time when Google has been reluctant to roll out search backed by artificial intelligence, cautious of racial and gender biases still reflected in AI. Still on peerless data troves, Google may be working behind the scenes for a humanly nuanced foray into AI while Microsoft bets on a first-mover advantage.
Microsoft is engaged in another turf war with Google Search through its involvement with You.com, a non-tracking AI search engine committed to both privacy and personalization. In addition to using Bing on the backend, the search engine is also using OpenAI-owned GPT-3 for YouWrite, a text generation protocol.
A cursory look at similarly modeled engines shows that they are minimalist and lack customization options whereas Google’s cross-performing products give it a self-contained feel. You.com is on the maximalist side, thanks to AI, and designed for personalization, while remaining committed to privacy.
Beyond search, ChatGPT has notoriously threatened a civilizational dent due to its ability to respond to intellectual prompts including generating images, essays, even Kindle-worthy novel down to fine contextual specifications.
However, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman warns that “it’s a mistake to be relying on [ChatGPT] for anything important right now.”
ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness.
it's a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now. it’s a preview of progress; we have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.
— Sam Altman (@sama) December 11, 2022
OpenAI losing its AI-for-humanity appeal
According to a Semafor report, OpenAI’s structure will “be revised to reflect Microsoft ownership at 49%, along with other investors jointly owning 49%, and OpenAI’s non profit owning 2% of the new entity.”
Elon Musk who founded OpenAI with Altman in 2015 left the company, citing potential conflict of interest with Tesla’s AI direction. The company went from non-profit to capped-for-profit but may now be entering its era of private profit motive under Microsoft.
Despite promising wide assessibility to AI, the company’s ChatGPT already follows U.S. foreign policy in restricting access to America’s geopolitical rivals and countries under sanctions.
Even if this is not stated policy, it is the procedure followed by some banks dealing with countries under sanctions, while bigger tech companies have subliminal dalliances with the State Department.
It remains to be seen how OpenAI’s absorption by Microsoft will affect its original AI-for-humanity selling point. As MetaNews reported recently, Bill Gates has spoken up artificial intelligence and augmented reality (AR) while casting aspersions on the metaverse.
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