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Mark Zuckerberg wants to build a metaverse voice assistant for Facebook that blows Alexa and Siri away – Vox.com

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This key part of his plan for the metaverse could analyze your voice, eye movements, and body language.
Uncovering and explaining how our digital world is changing — and changing us.
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has shifted its long-term strategy away from its social media apps to focus on the metaverse, a virtual world where people wearing augmented/virtual reality headsets can talk to each others’ avatars, play games, hold meetings, and otherwise engage in social activities.
That’s created a lot of questions, such as what this means for a company that has been focused on social media for nearly two decades, whether Meta will be able to achieve its new goal of building a metaverse future, and what that future will look like for the billions of people who use Meta’s products every day. On Wednesday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed some answers during a keynote speech about the company’s latest developments in AI.
One of Meta’s main goals is to develop advanced voice assistant AI technology — think Alexa or Siri, but smarter — that the company plans to use in its AR/VR products, like its Quest headset (formerly Oculus), Portal smart display, and Ray-Ban smart glasses.
“The kinds of experiences you’ll have in the metaverse are beyond what’s possible today,” said Zuckerberg. “That’s going to require advances across a whole range of areas, from new hardware devices to software for building and exploring worlds. And the key to unlocking a lot of these advances is AI.”
The presentation comes during one of the most challenging moments in the company’s history. Meta’s share prices have taken a historic dip, its advertising model has been shaken up by Apple’s mobile privacy changes, and it faces the looming threat of political regulation.
So it makes sense that the company is looking to the future, in which Meta hopes to roll out sophisticated language-processing AI.
It’s the first time Meta has had an event solely dedicated to showcasing its AI developments, according to a Meta spokesperson. That being said, the company admits this AI is still in development and not widely used yet. The demonstrations are exploratory; Meta’s demo videos on Wednesday included disclaimers at the bottom that many of the images and examples are strictly for illustrative purposes and not actual products. Also: Avatars in the metaverse still don’t have legs.
If Meta is pushing its world-class computer science researchers to develop these tools, though, there’s a good chance it will succeed. And if fully realized, these technologies could change how we communicate, both in real life and in virtual reality. These developments also present significant privacy concerns about how more personal data collected from AI-powered wearable devices is stored and shared.
Here are a few things to know about how Meta is building out a voice assistant using new AI models, as well the privacy and ethical concerns an AI-superpowered metaverse raises.
On Wednesday, it became clear that Meta sees voice assistants as a key part of the metaverse, and it knows that its voice assistant needs to be more conversational than what we have now. For example, most voice assistants can easily answer the question, “What’s the weather today?” But if you ask a follow-up question, such as, “Is it hotter than it was last week?” the voice assistant will likely be stumped.
Meta wants its voice assistant to be better at picking up contextual clues in conversations, along with other data points that it can collect about our physical body, like our gaze, facial expressions, and hand gestures.
“To support true world creation and exploration, we need to advance beyond the current state of the art for smart assistants,” said Zuckerberg on Wednesday.
While Meta’s Big Tech competitors — Amazon, Apple, and Google — already have popular voice assistant products, either on mobile or as standalone hardware like Alexa, Meta doesn’t (aside from some limited voice command functionality on its Ray-Bans, Oculus, and Portal devices).
“When we have glasses on our faces, that will be the first time an AI system will be able to really see the world from our perspective — see what we see, hear what we hear, and more,” said Zuckerberg. “So the ability and expectation we have for AI systems will be much higher.”
To meet those expectations, the company says it’s been developing a project called CAIRaoke, a self-learning AI neural model (that’s a statistical model based on biological networks in the human brain) to power its voice assistant. This model uses “self-supervised learning,” meaning that rather than being trained on large datasets the way many other AI models are, the AI can essentially teach itself.
“Before, all the blocks were built separately, and then you sort of glued them together,” Meta’s managing director of AI research, Joëlle Pineau, told Recode. “As we move to self-supervised learning, we have the ability to learn the whole conversation.”
As one example of how this technology can be applied, Zuckerberg — in virtual reality avatar form — demoed a tool the company is working on called “BuilderBot” that allows you to speak out what you want to see in your virtual reality. For instance, saying “I want to see a palm tree over there” could make an AI-generated palm tree pop up where you want, based on what you say, your gaze, your controllers/hands, and general contextual awareness, according to the company.
Meta still needs to do more research for this to be possible, and it’s studying what’s called “egocentric perception,” which is about understanding worlds from a first-person perspective, to build this out. Currently, it’s testing the technology from the model in its Portal smart displays.
Eventually, the company also hopes to be able to capture inputs beyond speech — like a user’s movement, position, and body language, to build even smarter virtual assistants that can anticipate what users want.
Privacy concerns and failures have haunted Meta and other big tech companies because their business models are built around collecting users’ data: our browsing histories, interests, personal communications, and more.
Those concerns are even greater, privacy experts say, with AR/VR, because it can track even more sensitive data, like our eye movements, facial expressions, and body language.
Some AR/VR and AI ethicists are worried about just how personal these data inputs can become, what kind of predictions AI can make with those inputs, and how that data will be shared.
“Eye-tracking data, gaze data, literally being able to quantify whether you’re feeling stimuli off of sexual arousal or a loving gaze — all of that is concerning,” said Kavya Pearlman, founder of the XR Safety Initiative, a nonprofit that advocates for the ethical development of technologies like VR. “Who has access to this data? What are they doing with this data?”
For now, the answers to those questions aren’t entirely clear, although Meta is saying it’s committed to addressing such concerns.
Zuckerberg said that the company is working with human rights, civil rights, and privacy experts to build “systems grounded in fairness, respect, and human dignity.”
But given the company’s track record of privacy breaches, some technology ethicists are skeptical.
“From a purely scientific perspective, I’m really excited. But because it is Meta, I’m scared,” said Pearlman.
In response to people’s concerns about privacy in the metaverse, Meta’s Pineau said that by giving users control over what data they share, the company can help alleviate people’s worries.
“People are willing to share information when there’s value that they derive out of that. And so if you look at it, the notion of autonomy, control, and transparency is what really allows the users to have more control over how their data is used,” she said.
Aside from privacy concerns, some Meta AR/VR users worry that if an AI-powered metaverse takes off, it may not be accessible to and safe for everyone. Already, some women have complained about encountering sexual harassment in the metaverse, such as when a beta tester of Meta’s social VR app Horizon Worlds reported being virtually groped by other users. Meta has since instituted what amounts to a 4-foot virtual safety bubble around avatars to help avoid “unwanted interactions.”
If Meta reaches its goal of using AI to make its AR/VR environments even more immersive and seamless in our daily lives, more problems around accessibility, safety, and discrimination are likely to surface. And though Facebook says it’s thinking about these concerns at the outset, its track record with its other products isn’t reassuring.
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Albert Camus and the search for solace in a cruel age.

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Metaverse Crypto Index Fund Launched by Matthew Ball, Multicoin, and Bitwise – Decrypt

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There's a wide array of crypto builders working to bring the metaverse to life, whether it's via platforms, tools, assets, or infrastructure. Now one of the leading voices around the metaverse has launched an index fund focused on crypto assets tied to the next-generation internet.
Today, writer and venture capitalist Matthew Ball announced a partnership with Multicoin Capital and Bitwise Asset Management to launch the Ball Multicoin Bitwise Metaverse Index. Bitwise has also made an associated fund available to qualified purchasers.
"We developed the Ball Multicoin Bitwise Metaverse Index Fund because, prior to today, there was no easy, expert, and methodologically diversified way for investors to have broad-based exposure to bona fide metaverse-focused crypto assets," Ball told Decrypt.
"To this end, the Index doesn't exist to time Event A or Market Conditions B. It exists so that investors can participate in what we believe is a multi-trillion dollar transformation, which will unfold over the coming decade," he continued. "If blockchain is relevant to the future of the metaverse, and our approach is sound, we believe the opportunity is significant—today, tomorrow, next month, and so forth."
The index will feature up to 40 crypto assets chosen by the partners, but a list of included assets was not provided to Decrypt by the time of publication. Bitwise's associated fund is available to qualified purchasers with a $100,000 minimum investment.
Ball described the Ball Multicoin Bitwise Metaverse Index as a "rules-driven index that combines the best of institutional indexing approaches with special adaptations to the crypto and metaverse spaces. That includes various risk screens, such as analyzing liquidity, developer activity, tech and regulatory risk, and "relevancy to the metaverse," said Ball.
"The ultimate goal is to curate the crypto assets that will be outsized contributors to the creation and success of an open metaverse," he added.
The metaverse refers to a future version of the internet that many believe will be built on blockchain technology. It's expected to be a more immersive and interactive experience that people navigate via 3D avatars and use for work, play, shopping, and socializing. It may also use NFT assets for user-owned items like avatars, apparel, and virtual land.
Ethereum-based games like Decentraland and The Sandbox are seen as early examples of the metaverse.
Facebook also showcased its own vision for the space and even rebranded its parent company to Meta last fall. However, it's not entirely clear whether Facebook's plan is for an open platform that is interoperable with others.
Ball is a leading writer on the metaverse whose work has been published in The New York Times, The Economist, and Bloomberg. His book, "The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything," is due out from W.W. Norton in July.
He's also a managing partner at EpyllionCo, which has invested in crypto startups such as Dapper Labs and Mirror, as well as a venture partner at Makers Fund. Ball is also behind the Roundhill Ball Metaverse ETF, which focuses on metaverse-centric stocks and trades on the New York Stock Exchange.
"Our objective was the creation of a diversified, balanced, and expertly-designed crypto Metaverse Index," explained Multicoin Capital co-founder and managing partner, Kyle Samani.
"This required a similarly capable team," he continued. "Matthew Ball is the definitive thought-leader in metaverse strategy and investing. We specialize in crypto assets and are one of the preeminent crypto investment firms. And Bitwise Asset Management is the proven leader in crypto indexes and index funds."

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Meta's losses show the metaverse's costly risk – Insider Intelligence

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Facebook parent Meta launches startup accelerator with India’s IT ministry in metaverse push – TechCrunch

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Meta Platforms is looking at India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem as it bolsters its bet on the metaverse. The social juggernaut has partnered with the Indian IT Ministry’s startup hub to launch an accelerator in the country to broaden innovation in emerging technologies, including augmented reality and virtual reality, officials said Tuesday.
MeitY Startup Hub and Meta’s effort, called XR Startup Program, will work with 40 early-stage startups and help them in research and development and developing workable products and services. Each startup will also receive a grant of over $25,000, the American giant said.
The program, supported by Meta’s $50 million XR Programs and Research Fund, will initially hand pick 80 startups to attend a bootcamp. It will also help startups with finding customers, inking relationships and raising funds, Meta said.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics & Information Technology and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, said the program is especially aimed at helping encourage technology innovation in smaller cities and towns.
The XR Startup Program is the latest of Meta’s growing participation in the South Asian market’s upskilling efforts. The firm, whose Facebook and WhatsApp services identify India as their largest market by users, partnered with Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in the country, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators in the country.
The program — to be implemented by four Indian institutions, including IIT Delhi — will also host a “grand challenge” for innovation in categories including education, healthcare, entertainment, agritech, climate action, sustainability and tourism, the American giant said.
“India will play a pivotal role in defining future technologies. Decisions and investments made here in India now shape global discussions on how technology can deliver more economic opportunity and better outcomes for people. It is critical that we help to create an ecosystem that will enable India’s tech startups and innovators to build the foundations of the metaverse,” said Joel Kaplan, VP of Global Policy at Meta, in a statement.
Meta’s interest with working with startups in India is also not newly found. The company has backed three startups in the country, including social commerce platform Meesho and online education group Unacademy.
3 views: Is the metaverse for work or play?

“India’s rapid tech adoption combined with a vast pool of tech talent puts the country in a vantage position for shaping the future of the internet,” said Ajit Mohan, VP and MD of Facebook India, in a statement.
“For this future to be equitable, it will require active participation from all stakeholders, including developers, businesses, creators, policymakers, and entrepreneurs. We are excited to collaborate with MeitY Startup Hub and hope that the XR Startup Program will act as a catalyst to unlock the use of immersive technology across sectors like education, healthcare, agritech and tourism, not only in India but across the globe.”

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