Posey's Tips & Tricks
What are the Metaverse's Limits?
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A while back, a friend purchased a HoloLens 2 device purely for personal use. At the time, he told me that he was captivated by the technology and that there were some games that he really wanted to try out. About a year later I asked him how his overall HoloLens 2 experience had been. His answer really surprised me. He told me that while he had initially bought the device for gaming, what he found to be most interesting was the HoloLens' ability to alter reality. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me that he had holographically remodeled his apartment and that wearing the HoloLens 2 device gave him the chance to live in a space that was much more to his liking than his apartment was in real life.
In some ways, this idea of transforming reality is what the metaverse is all about. One of the first Metaverse demos, for example, showed people interacting with one another in some really cool venues that do not exist in real life.
As tempting as it might be for me to build my own beachfront dwelling in the virtual world, I think that just creating virtualized versions of a "happy place" really misses the bigger picture. The metaverse has the potential to transform reality in other ways that have little to do with what the space looks like. With some fancy coding you could literally bend the laws of physics in the metaverse. I'm talking about being able to virtually do things such as time travel, shrinking yourself to the size of an ant, flying or just about anything else that you can imagine.
In a recent blog post I made the comment,"I think that the metaverse offers possibilities and opportunities that go far beyond anything that anyone is talking about right now." When I wrote that, I was thinking of all the various ways that the metaverse could conceivably be used to alter reality. Admittedly though, I hadn't really thought it through. But apparently someone else has.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to unplug for a few days and go to the beach. While waiting for a table at a restaurant one night, I overheard a conversation between a couple of people who were talking about the metaverse. Even though it was painfully obvious that the two were intoxicated, they made some interesting points.
One of the guys said something to the effect of that his life hadn't turned out the way that he wanted it to, but that he could have a much better life in the metaverse. He went on to tell his friend that he could even envision the possibility of having a couple of kids who do not exist in real life, but only in the virtual world.
His friend chimed in and said that somewhere there is probably a tech startup who would be all too happy to create an AI family for him -- for a nominal monthly fee. His friend then went on to say that the amount that you pay would determine what kind of kid you get. An entry-level subscription would get you a kid who is a real loser (his words, not mine), whereas a top-tier subscription would get you a kid who is a star quarterback. The guy quickly added, "But don't forget to pay the subscription fee or your kid gets deleted and dies."
Hearing the conversation between the two drunk guys got me wondering if it would really be feasible for a tech company to convincingly create a person who only exists in the metaverse. The first thing that came to mind was a Web site called "This Person Does Not Exist". The site uses AI to generate convincing photos of people who do not actually exist.
Of course a virtual being would also need to be able to interact with humans in an intelligent way. When Microsoft created Windows Phone 8 many years ago, they tried to do something like that with Cortana. Even though Cortana seemed lifelike at times, it was essentially just rattling off predetermined responses to questions. In fact, there were lists on the Internet of questions that would cause Cortana to give an amusing answer.
This brings up an interesting point. One of the questions that you could ask Cortana back in the day was, "Who is your creator?" There were several canned responses, but one possible response was, "If I knew that I'd have self-awareness and that might be dangerous." I mention this because there was a Google engineer who recently blew the whistle on the company, claiming that it had created a self-aware AI. While opinions vary widely as to whether or not Google's AI is truly self-aware, one thing is for sure. It is intelligent enough to carry on human-like conversations.
Of course one of the things that has always separated humans from machines is that humans change over time. Humans gradually mature. They learn new things and are shaped by their experiences. Interestingly, an AI could behave in a similar way. An AI will undoubtedly behave differently as it gains additional training and knowledge and as technology improves. If you don't believe me then just think about how far Amazon Alexa has come since it was introduced in 2014.
All of this is to say that while the conversation that I overheard at the beach was probably nothing more than a couple of drunk guys having a bit of fun, I think that it might actually be possible to create a convincing human analog in the metaverse. I seriously doubt that an AI could ever fully replicate human behavior, but it would probably be possible to create an AI that acts nearly human.
Brien Posey is a 21-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.