Why We Should Be Wary of Facebook’s Metaverse




PHOTO:
Fran Jacquier | unsplash

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently unveiled the company’s new name: Meta. The announcement was an act of crisis management aimed at diverting our attention from the negative issues surrounding Facebook. Problematic content monitoring policies and claims that it benefits from social polarization are adding to the company’s already tenuous reputation. The windfall of “Facebook files” and “Facebook documents” — a series of document-based investigations leaked by former employee Francis Haugen — brought the company to the lowest point in its history. The new name allows Zuckerberg to separate Meta from the negative associations with the Facebook name.

But the main news was the new details the company revealed about its Metaverse vision. The Metaverse is Zuckerberg’s vision of a virtual reality where people play, talk, communicate, work and purchase products. At this point the vision seems ambitious, but pretentious and most importantly — its purpose is unclear. However, Zuckerberg is often two steps ahead of everyone in terms of his ability to understand the human psyche.

What Do We Do When Machines Take Our Jobs?

The gloomy predictions about the future of employment did not go unnoticed by Zuckerberg and his people. He understands that within a few decades robots will replace humans in almost every possible profession. It’s estimated that between one-third and one-half of jobs in developed economies will be handed over to computer software. Taxi and bus drivers, insurance agents, doctors and teachers, all could be replaced by AI. After all, an experienced doctor relies very much on pattern recognition and who is more skilled at recognizing patterns than artificial intelligence?

Policymakers don’t spend time examining the risks involved in creating machines with increasing intelligence — but they should. The labor market is about to undergo a revolution. Machine learning algorithms will be able to absorb more information, access it more easily and quickly and translate it into actions, faster than people. Zuckerberg asked himself, if machines are capable of doing almost any job that humans can do, what will humans do in their spare time?

One of the typical answers is we will be free to engage in leisure activities (setting the complete loss of income aside as a topic for another article, another day). Having too much leisure time is problematic. Work plays a vital role in ensuring a strong sense of well being.

Governments — and human society as a whole — aren’t coping with the acceleration in the developments of artificial intelligence and robotics. Although they are investing more and more money into the development of advanced technologies, they are not dealing with the psychological consequences and problems as a result of free time. Lots of effort invested in deciphering the development of artificial intelligence, and much less investment in deciphering human consciousness and its implications. Politicians have more urgent issues to deal with right now.

Related Article: The McDonald’s Model for Human-Machine Collaboration

Who Needs Reality When You’ve Got Virtual Reality?

Zuckerberg took on the task of creating an alternative to these scenarios. He understands that a lot of money can be printed here. Humanity is currently facing the most important decisions in its history. The political system consciously or unconsciously chooses not to interfere in this. Politicians are not at all concerned with the question of where the technology is going, leaving it entirely in the hands of market forces, or rather in the hands of Facebook.

The big question that Facebook is asking itself is how to keep the masses of people from going insane out of sheer boredom after losing their job to technology, and its answer is the Metaverse.

The virtual reality that Zuckerberg develops will make it possible to regulate the moods of human beings, and provide escapism and venting for all human primitive fantasies. The rewards of human beings will no longer be in the actual reality but in the virtual one. We are starting to see it today: people have less sex, fewer personal interactions, less physical recreation. Children are willing to spend hours in these realities. Today it is still a screen to sit in front of, but Facebook is developing a world that can replace the physical world and allow for real experiences and also ones that you will never have in the physical life. The center of life will gradually move to virtual reality, and world rulers, Google and Facebook executives, will be able to sleep soundly because no one is going to make a revolution against them.

Related Article: Facebook: A Case Study in Ethics

Avatars Instead of Profiles

We are approaching the point where Google, Facebook or Microsoft will know us better than we know ourselves, and will actually be able to make most of the decisions in our behavior. Not just banal choices like which book to read, but also where to work and who to marry. Zuckerberg embodies all of this in the avatars he’s developing. Avatars (digital duplicates) will be just like today’s profile pictures but instead of a static picture, these are three-dimensional and vivid representations of expressions and gestures. “They are going to make the interactions much richer than anything possible on today’s internet,” said Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg of course does not want to lay out his real vision but this is what I suspect he plans: the future avatar will make all the critical decisions in our place and so Facebook will have direct access not only to our profiles but also to how each of us thinks, processes information and makes decisions. Zuckerberg is interested in taking the story of our lives from us and rewriting it as an avatar representing us. As it stands now, there is no force that intends or is acting to stop it.

Liraz Margalit, PhD, is a digital psychologist, customer & user behavior specialist, and an international keynote speaker. She integrates cognitive psychology and behavioral economics perspectives to analyzes consumer behavior and deliver actionable insights for business stakeholders.



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