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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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Utherverse CEO Brian Shuster Granted Seven New Patents for … – Business Wire

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Internet pioneer now boasts more than 100 tech and internet-enabling patents
NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Brian Shuster, founder and CEO of Utherverse, one of the largest metaverse platforms in the world, has been granted seven new patents for technologies designed to enhance the metaverse experience. The new technologies will begin to be deployed in the metaverse’s next generation platform, due to launch by mid-2023.

The new patents add to Utherverse’s already formidable mountain of intellectual property, addressing a variety of problems and vulnerabilities within metaverse platforms, ranging from the physics of movement and immersive displays to physical interaction between users and animation control.
“For more than two decades we have been working to enhance users’ experiences on the internet,” said Shuster. “These new patents span the three key metaverse pillars of software, hardware and remote touch; solve some inherent and significant problems with the operation of metaverse platforms; and greatly improve the ability of users to exist and thrive in hyper-realistic virtual worlds. They will provide developers with the capability to continually innovate.”
Shuster is now an inventor of more than 100 patents for internet enabling technologies. The abstracts of the seven new patents read in part:
Utherverse is a metaverse platform that enables developers to build interconnected virtual worlds, provides hyper-realistic immersive experiences for consumers and opportunities for companies to market and monetize their products and services. Utherverse generates revenue from custom metaverse building services, sales of NFTs and a variety of business verticals including advertising/marketing, shopping/retail, conferences/conventions, education, dating, lifestyle, entertainment events/performances, VIP experiences and virtual offices. The Utherverse platform was launched in 2005 by internet visionary Brian Shuster. A beta version of the next generation Utherverse platform is expected to launch by mid-2023. To date, the platform has served 50 million+ users with 32 billion+ virtual commerce transactions. Utherverse has developed the technology and received more than 40 patents critical toward operating large-scale metaverses. The company is based in British Columbia, Canada. More information can be found online at Utherverse.io; Twitter/Instagram: @Utherverse; Facebook: /UtherverseDigital; LinkedIn: /utherverse-digital-inc/; Telegram: /UtherverseAnnouncements; Discord: /Utherverse.io.
Steve Honig
The Honig Company, LLC
818-986-4300
press@honigllc.com
Steve Honig
The Honig Company, LLC
818-986-4300
press@honigllc.com

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Meta is desperately trying to make the metaverse happen – MIT Technology Review

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Will web access and avatar legs be enough?
The star of Tuesday’s Meta Connect, the so-called “state of the union” for the company formerly known as Facebook, was Meta Quest Pro. Meta’s newest virtual-reality headset clocks in at a whopping $1,499.99. That’s a significant price jump from its previous iteration, Meta Quest 2, which could be yours for $399.99—not exactly cheap, but still in triple-digit territory.
That price hike, coupled with Meta’s insistence throughout the virtual event that the company envisioned the metaverse as a “next-generation social platform” accessible to everyone, sort of feels like a blatant contradiction. Even if you are among the lucky few who can shell out a grand and a half for a virtual-reality headset, would you really want to?
That’s the question Meta seems to be grappling with. While the headset price jumped, nearly all the company’s other big moves are aimed at a common and simple baseline: making the metaverse something people actually want to use. 
Meta’s metaverse hasn’t exactly had a smooth year. Less than a year ago, founder Mark Zuckerberg rebranded what was then Facebook in an effort to show that the company was pivoting to what he believed was the future of our digital lives. Since then, Meta has been saddled with hiccups and gaffes, including a much-ballyhooed avatar of Zuckerberg that got memed to oblivion, a report suggesting that the company’s employees were less than enthused about the metaverse, and allegations of virtual sexual assault.
A woman was sexually harassed on Meta’s VR social media platform. She’s not the first—and won’t be the last.
So its current strategy seems to be to release a string of updates to see what might get people interested—a “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” approach, if you will. 
Besides the Meta Quest Pro, the company also announced at the event that it was going to open up Horizon Worlds, the social media platform within Meta’s metaverse, to mobile and desktop users, so people without a headset will be able to access the virtual world.
That’s a notable step: it’s a tacit admission that VR headsets aren’t taking off as quickly as the company would like. Without a critical mass of people who understand what the metaverse feels like or even is, Meta can’t hope to have its products adopted. Opening its virtual worlds to the formats consumers are comfortable with (their text messages, their browsers, the company’s beleaguered Instagram platform) gives people who aren’t open to shelling out $399.99—much less $1,499.99—a way to experience the new world.
What’s also made the metaverse a hard sell is the disorienting experience of being a floating, legless torso, and Meta announced that it won’t be that way anymore. Previously, Andrew Bosworth, Meta’s CTO, said in an Instagram AMA that full-body avatars were difficult to implement, particularly because VR tracking usually comes from someone’s real-life eyes and hands. “Tracking your own legs accurately is super hard and basically not workable just from a physics standpoint with existing headsets,” he said in February.
But Zuckerberg (or, rather, his leggy avatar) announced at the event that the company was going to use artificial intelligence to map out legs in the metaverse, allowing avatars the ability not only to walk and run but also to wear digital clothing for their legs (a marketplace that Zuckerberg has said he is eager to participate in; Roblox, a gaming platform I’ve written about before, currently has a comfortable share of the market). This would be a huge step to improving how users think about movement in the metaverse and how they decide to represent themselves there.
But even with legs, and even with the ability to roam the metaverse without a headset strapped to your face, the key question remains: Is Meta’s metaverse something people will actually buy into? It’s worth noting that even employees at Meta are skeptical about the company’s vision, with one going so far as to say the amount spent on these projects to date made him “sick to [his] stomach.”
A free, shareable version of the metaverse accessible via weblink will open the previously closed world up to people who may not have hundreds of dollars to burn, and it’s a huge move toward democratizing the space. It might lead people to buy Meta’s claim that talking to a cartoon version of your boss is totally cool—and, more broadly, that the metaverse really is the next digital plane on which we’ll conduct our lives. 
But it might also do the opposite: people might hop on the link and find that even in its now full-bodied state, the metaverse, er, doesn’t have legs.
An avatar of the singer, who died in 1997, performed with live rappers on Meta’s Horizon Worlds.
In his own words, the Chinese painter shares how he became a one-person newsroom during a week of intense protests against China's zero-covid policy.
Reflecting on my desire for Chinese-style e-commerce platforms.
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OREO Launches Its Own VR Metaverse Experience – VRScout

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The OREOVERSE is available now via Horzion Worlds.
This week OREO unveiled a new limited-edition flavor, the Most OREO OREO, which features real OREO grind mixed in the creme. In celebration of the new product, the company has created its own metaverse experience accessible on Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro headsets.
According to the company, the OREOVERSE features a variety of “cookie-themed” games that have you building delicious treats in VR for a chance at $50,000. As part of the campaign, TV personality Martha Stewart and her gardener Ryan McCallister will stream themselves exploring the OREOVERSE next week on the OREO brand’s social channels.
“We’re so excited to enter the metaverse! OREO is the cookie that begs to be played with and we love to create new opportunities for our fans to connect with each other and share that playful spirit,” said Julia Rosenbloom, Senior Brand Manager, OREO, in an official release. “The Most OREO OREO cookie gives fans a whole new way to playfully engage with us. By scanning the pack, they will ‘dunk into’ the new OREOVERSE world.”
“I am excited to make my metaverse debut in partnership with one of my favorite cookie brands, OREO, and having Ryan there with me will make it all the more fun,” added Martha Stewart. “The two of us have had our fair share of adventures over the last 10 years and have been able to navigate just about anything together, especially in the garden!”
The OREOVERSE is accessible now on Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro headsets via Horizon Worlds, Meta’s own social VR metaverse. Marth Stewart’s OREOVERSE excursion will begin on Monday, January 30th at 10:00 am ET on Facebook and Instagram. For more information visit here.
Image Credit: OREO
Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He’s also a part-time bounty hunter.
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