Working in the metaverse

Will we all be working in the metaverse in the future, what are the implications and are our children equipped for a more virtual world of work?

Man with VR headset and microphone at virtual event


What will the future of work bring? Those parents worrying that their children are spending too much time online playing with VR headsets may be fretting in vain. The future world of work could look more like a game and children may well be learning the skills they will need to do well in it.

That’s what the metaverse promises in any event. In the metaverse you can be anywhere in the world and feel like you are working right beside others through the magic of virtual reality.

The metaverse: pros and cons, an, appropriately, online event at the Cambridge Festival next week spotlights some of the issues that this might throw up. As with all things there are positives and negatives.

On the negative side are all the dangers associated with other forms of online communication. The challenges, for instance, with regard to hate speech, are similar to social media but more complex because everything is live and therefore very difficult to moderate. Some may say that this is similar to the real world, but the problem is, as we have seen with the likes of Twitter/X, that people in the virtual world tend to have less of a filter.

Experts are learning a lot from online immersive games which record conversation in real time and translate it to text for moderation purposes, but it is a very expensive process.  They say new systems are needed. When it comes to legal regulation, lawmakers have said the stipulations on taking down negative content in the Online Safety Bill will apply to the metaverse, but experts say it’s not clear how closely this is being monitored.

One of the Cambridge Festival speakers, Dr Matteo Zallio, Marie Curie senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, adds that users may not be aware of how much data companies can gather from them in the metaverse from pupil dilation to heart rate. Another, Shannon Pierson, a Public-Interest Cybersecurity Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, says hand and head movements are as identifiable as fingerprints. Biomedical data can show medical conditions which may throw up privacy issues.

A boost to training

On the plus side, there are many benefits, such as greater inclusion of people who might previously have been excluded from the workplace, for instance, people with disabilities. The metaverse could help with training too. VR simulations used for training can adapt to the individual learner, for example, through detecting sweaty hands or faster heartbeat to show people are not as on top of a skill as they might appear.  Pierson says she has seen it used for public speaking where it can track a speaker’s gaze. She calls it ‘a sandbox to practise your skills’. But there are concerns, for example, that it can monitor people’s emotional states as well as showing people’s medical conditions and they may not want to share this.

For employers, the metaverse will mean they can track workers better and increase productivity, understanding what the barriers to this are better.

What happens next?

One big issue is who owns the metaverse. The big social media companies, including the appropriately named Meta [which owns Facebook], are currently dominating the metaverse space, in large part because they can use it to gather more data in order to target adverts better. This will be accelerated greatly by AI and Generative AI, enabling content to be delivered in a more compelling way in 3D. Zallio says  AI is a game changer.  “The metaverse without AI is just an idea,” he says.

While the Cambridge Festival experts think the metaverse is still several years from widespread use, they note that it is already being seen as more of a productivity tool than just about gaming so it is clearly evolving.

In his recent book The Metaverse and how it will revolutionise everything, Matthew Ball, CEO of angel investment firm Epyllion and former global head of strategy at Amazon Studios, writes: “There will be no clear ‘before Metaverse’ and ‘after Metaverse’ – only the ability to look back at a point in history when life was different.”

For Ball, the metaverse has the potential to be beneficial to workers, if it is properly regulated. He says: “The Metaverse can seem daunting and scary, but it also offers a chance to bring people closer together, to transform industries that have long resisted disruption and that must evolve, and to build a more equal global economy.” It’s all to play for.

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