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Culture February 23, 2023

UK Police Record Child Abuse in the Metaverse



UK Police Record Child Abuse in the Metaverse

Three UK police forces from a total of 45 have recorded instances of child abuse in the metaverse, though case numbers remain low for now.

The revelations come as part of a UK-wide investigation by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). 

A troubling report

UK police forces recorded 30,925 individual offenses involving indecent images of children in 2021-2022. The figures were collected by the NSPCC under freedom of information requests.

As part of the investigation, the children’s charity uncovered a small number of instances in which the criminals used either the metaverse or metaverse-related technologies to perpetrate their crimes.

The report also shows that Snapchat is the pedophile’s social media platform of choice. Of the 9,888 cases which involved social media, Snapchat counted for 4,293 instances, Facebook 1,361, Instagram 1,363, and WhatsApp 547.

By comparison only eight of the total reported cases involved the metaverse in some way, with one case specifically related to Meta’s Oculus brand. While those numbers are incredibly small in the grander scheme of things, they do not present a reason for complacency.

An increasing problem

Sir Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC outlined the case for vigilance – as figures have increased by 66% over the past five years.

“These new figures are incredibly alarming but reflect just the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online,” he said.

The charity went on to argue for amendments to the UK Online Safety Bill, including changes that would hold tech bosses criminally liable.

Meta echoed the horror of the UK charity, but did not go so far as to back their demands. Meta instead cited their work with the equivalent body in the US, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

“This horrific content is banned on our apps, and we report instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC,” a spokesperson said for the company. “We lead the industry in the development and use of technology to prevent and remove this content, and we work with the police, child safety experts and industry partners to tackle this societal issue. Our work in this area is never done, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to keep this content off our apps.”

Child safety paramount

Despite the small number of recorded crimes in the metaverse, there is little room for complacency when it comes to child safety. For those seeking to exploit children, however, the metaverse would seem like a bad choice to perpetrate those crimes.

As MetaNews previously reported, everything you currently do in the metaverse is subject to being recorded and stored somewhere for later reference. A few minutes in the metaverse creates millions of individual data points – which when coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) is enough to identify a person as clearly as a fingerprint. 

A recent report from the University of California Berkley (UCB), reported by MetaNews earlier this week, states that privacy in the metaverse is next to impossible. The researchers found that just one hundred seconds of recorded VR motion is enough to accurately identify a person with 94% accuracy from a pool of 50,000 participants.

While ordinary citizens may have legitimate privacy concerns about how such powerful surveillance technology might be misused, nobody is going to cry if pedophiles are caught out by it.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.


Taco Bell’s Metaverse Wedding Actually Happened



Taco Bell's Metaverse Wedding Actually Happened

Last year, fast food chain Taco Bell claimed to have found a couple that would marry in its eponymous metaverse. Months went by without further updates from the outlet, but now it appears that the unusual wedding actually went ahead.

The lucky couple from California had the ceremony in February of this year, and details of the event have now become public.

Taco Bell wedding

The happy couple marry in the Taco Bell metaverse (Screenshot: Decentraland)

The Taco wedding bells

In August of 2022, Taco Bell ran a competition to find a couple it said would be married in its metaverse. The setting would be virtual but it was promised that the wedding would be real.

Sheel and Amruta from California were the lucky couple. To keep in theme with the high-tech nature of the metaverse event, Sheel said he wrote his vows with help from ChatGPT.

“I promise to always keep your phone charged,” Sheel said at the virtual altar.

“I promise to help you look for your AirPods every single morning… I promise to be your human gravity blanket whenever you ask for it. I promise to laugh at your jokes… I promise to never let our love become stale, and to always keep everything spicy and exciting. I will cherish and adore you for all eternity and spend all my days with you by my side.”

As it turned out, the Taco Bell metaverse was actually hosted within Decentraland, an open 3D virtual environment in which the land itself is owned by users. Unlike the common public perception of a metaverse that is accessed via headsets, Decentraland is browser-based, making the environment easy for anyone to enter.

Guests included people near and dear to the couple, but random Decentraland users were also apparently able to gatecrash.

A Twitch streamer going by the handle Legiqn recorded his attendance at the celebration to preserve the evening for posterity. As Legiqn pointed out, the couple had a long history with the fast food chain.

“Their first date was at a Taco Bell,” said the influencer. “I don’t think it gets anymore romantic than that.”

This takes the cake

Besides being Taco Bell-themed, the wedding also conformed to Indian traditions that the couple and their family wished to be respected.

Actor Kal Penn, known for the Harold & Kumar film series, was among those in attendance.

On conclusion of the wedding, when the couple were pronounced husband and wife, Penn interviewed the happy pair to see how they felt about their Taco Bell wedding experience.

 “I’m super stoked,” Sheel said.

“It’s real,” Amruta added. “We’re married.”

From there the guests headed to the reception so the pair could have their first dance as a married couple. That was not the end of the highlights, however; there was still the small matter of who might be the next lucky person to be married in the Taco Bell metaverse.

Twitch streamer Legiqn was determined to catch the bouquet when the bride threw it over her shoulder.

“Yes, bouquet time, this is what I’ve been most excited for,” said Legiqn as he prepped himself to ‘grab’ the flowers. “This is where my gamer skills come in,” he announced to his followers as the big moment arrived. Unfortunately for Legiqn those gamers skills did him little good, as a user named Bleace caught them instead.

With the formalities over, guests danced on the virtual dancefloor to celebrate the unforgettable occasion, as a QR code flashed on the screen so they could all order Taco Bell. If that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.

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GPT-4: Users Share Its Wins and Losses on Social Media



GPT4 Users Share Its Wins and Losses on Social Media

OpenAI announced GPT-4 on Tuesday, the latest iteration of the world-famous chatbot that has captured the imagination of the internet since its launch last November. 

MetaNews took to social media to uncover what users have been doing with the upgraded tech, and to find out what the bot’s biggest wins and losses are so far.

The wins

Since the launch of GPT-4 users have been keen to share their victories with the chatbot, and the wins are stacking up.

One of the big headlines since the launch of GPT-4 is that the bot has an uncanny ability to pass standardized exams with little difficulty at all. The Bar Exam, which prospective lawyers must sit in order to practice law, is among those the bot can now pass with flying colors (90%). Other exams included the LSAT law exam (88%) and GRE Quantitative math (80%).

Here are a few more of the big wins for GPT-4.

From doodle to website

In one demonstration of its abilities, GPT-4 transformed a hand-drawn sketch into a functional website. The website is certainly very basic, but it’s a solid proof of concept.

£5,000 and 2 weeks saved

One canny user relayed how they were able to leverage GPT-4 to write code for 5 microservices for a new product. According to the user, a “very good” developer quoted £5,000 and stated they required 2 weeks to complete the job. Using GPT-4, the user was able to complete the job in a mere 3 hours.

Identify security holes in smart contracts

Another application for GPT-4 is identifying security holes in Ethereum smart contracts, which, when exploited, can result in the theft and loss of significant sums of money.

Conor Grogan, the Director of Coinbase, demonstrated the ability from his Twitter account on Tuesday.

“I dumped a live Ethereum contract into GPT-4,” said Grogan. “In an instant, it highlighted a number of security vulnerabilities and pointed out surface areas where the contract could be exploited. It then verified a specific way I could exploit the contract.”

The losses

One of the biggest losses for ChatGPT came directly from its own social media. The bot is predicting 20 jobs it can potentially replace in the near future, with roles ranging from Data Entry Clerk to Recruiter and Copywriter. 

Not so fast, GPT-4.

While the powers of GPT-4 may be impressive, the bot still has a considerable way to go before it can replace the work of a skilled human being. Case in point: CNET. When the tech publication recently replaced human writing staff with its own copywriting AI, the articles it discharged were nothing short of disastrous. Certainly, that bot wasn’t ChatGPT – but it illustrates how quickly things can unravel when you leave a chatbot to do human work with little oversight.

As for the notion that GPT-4 could replace a “Data Entry Clerk” or “Recruiter” – this strains credulity to absolute breaking point. No GPT-4, nobody is falling for this.

Here are some other examples of GPT-4 fails reported by social media users.

GPT-4 is bored of your terrible questions

One of the expected advantages of using a bot to write your code as that, unlike a hired software engineer, the bot will never tire, slow down or get bored. At least, that’s the hope.

A user reported that when asking GPT-4 for “lengthy segments of code” the AI appeared “to get bored” and simply stopped the task halfway through. Observing this behavior, the user went on to glibly state, “This thing is getting more human-like by the day…”

MetaNews suggests tasking GPT-4 with more interesting projects or paying it more.

The victory of failure

Yes, “fails only less spectacularly,” may be the faintest of faint praise, but it is still progress. Perhaps this one should be called a ‘ruined victory.’

Integer fail

It means you need to go back to doing integers in your head.

The loss that thought it was a win

Such has been the rush to identify significant use cases for GPT-4, not everyone has had time to stop and actually think out whether their win was really a win or not.

This phenomenon was epitomized by one overexcited user who explained how he was able to use Visual-ChatGPT to scan a picture of a fridge filled with fruits, cheeses, meats, eggs, and other staple ingredients into the chatbot. The user then commanded it to deliver five recipes from the ingredients it identified, all in just 60 seconds. 

The user then confidently shared GPT-4’s output with what he described as five “pretty decent food recipes.” Those recipes were fruit salad, cheese omelette, ham and cheese sandwich, fruit smoothie, and cheese and fruit platter.

The savage internet was quick to point out, however, that most of those suggestions are barely any kind of recipe at all, let alone a decent recipe. Worse still, three of the so-called recipes are simply variations of putting fruit on a plate or in some other receptacle. 

In fairness to GPT-4, of the 20 jobs it predicted it could replace, Chef was not one.

Still, if all this talk of food has worked up an appetite, please feel free to try out GPT-4’s “pretty decent” recipe for the “ham and cheese sandwich.”

ham and cheese

GPT-4’s ham and cheese sandwich recipe

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Instagram Abandons its NFT Feature One Year After Launch



Instagram Abandons its NFT Feature One Year After Launch
NFTs on Instagram no more.

Instagram announced late Monday that it is shutting down its NFT feature. The decision, which came as shock to many in the non-fungible tokens community, means that creators will no longer be able to release and sell NFTs to the public via the platform.

In a short Twitter thread, Meta’s head of Commerce and Financial Technologies Stephane Kasriel, revealed that digital collectibles, or NFTs, will be disabled across the popular social media networking site. He did not say when this will happen. Instagram is owned by Meta.

“We’re looking closely at what we prioritize to increase our focus. We’re winding down digital collectibles (NFTs) for now to focus on other ways to support creators, people, and businesses,” Kasriel wrote.

Experiment gone wrong

Instagram began testing digital collectibles with select U.S. creators and collectors in May last year, letting them share NFTs that they created or bought with their followers or fans.

The feature included connecting a digital wallet, sharing digital collectibles and automatically tagging the creator and collector. Creators were not required to pay any fees related to posts or shares of an non-fungible token on Instagram.

Also read: ‘Ordinals Sparked a Fire for Bitcoin NFTs’ but Hardliners Scream Bloody Murder

By end of 2022, Instagram and Facebook had expanded the NFTs feature to users in around 100 countries across the world. Creators could make their own NFTs on Instagram and sell them to fans, both on and off the site. A small group of U.S. creators tested the sale option.

But it does not appear that Instagram could have the NFT functionality grow at the desired scale. While Stephane Kasriel emphasized that he looked “forward to supporting the many NFT creators who continue using Instagram…” there was also an admission of failure.

“Creating opportunities for creators and businesses to connect with their fans and monetize remains a priority,” he said on Twitter, adding:

“We’re going to focus on areas where we can make impact at scale, such as messaging and monetization opps for Reels.”

Instagram ‘quit before it started’

A non-fungible token is an immutable and unique unit of data stored on the blockchain. NFTs can be used to represent items such as photos, videos, audio and other types of digital files.

In 2020, non-fungible tokens emerged as a cultural storefront of the cryptocurrency industry, bringing up novel possibilities in the curation and circulation of art. NFTs swayed fascinated endorsements from pop celebrities such as Snoop Dog, Lindsay Lohan, and several others.

Digital artist Beeple, sold an NFT for more than $69.3 million in 2021. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, converted his first ever tweet into a non-fungible token and sold it for $2.9 million.

Instagram’s decision to suspend digital collectibles will come as a shock to many in the community, who cheered the official launch last year as a coming of age for NFTs.

Crypto artist and photographer Dave Krugman described the move as “short sighted [and] just wild.”

“Inclusion of digital collectibles has so much potential to help creators engage their communities and counterbalance the pitfalls of attention based advertising economies,” he wrote on Twitter.

“You guys quit before you even started. A real shame and undoing a lot of really. The trust earned over the past year is now squandered, pushing artists even further away.”

Identified only as Matthew, the creative lead at NFT platform Niffty Gateway commented:

“Instagram just figured out (again) it’s more profitable/easy to continue exploiting artists for eyeballs to sell to advertisers instead of helping artists make money on their platform.”

“Posts on IG [Instagram] never translated to more sales on NFT marketplaces anyways,” he added.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is the world’s largest social media firm boasting 3.59 billion active daily users, according to Statista. The company pivoted to the metaverse in 2021, changing its name from Facebook to Meta to reflect the new focus.

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