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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Controlling the battle of Metaverse: Microsoft vs. Meta

After being trapped in group video conferencing for most of the past two years, are global office workers ready to take a big step into the digital realm?

Microsoft this week outlined its plans to introduce 250 million users of its Teams software into a more immersive virtual world called Metaverse. Its move follows Facebook’s own vision of conducting office meetings in virtual reality, and it took place a few days after the social media company changed its name to Meta to reflect the wider corporate focus on the virtual world.

Both companies said that users will be able to create their own avatars or animations and move freely between different virtual worlds. For workers, this means “digital twins” attending meetings, hanging out with colleagues or visiting real-world offices and factories.

But important parts of this vision have not been clarified, including the technical foundations that make it possible, and the terms that New Year’s Eve will allow access to avatars created elsewhere.

As a first step, Microsoft said that in the first half of next year, Teams users will be able to start appearing as virtual identities in online meetings they have already participated in. Teams principal Jared Spataro predicts that in a group video chat, having one of the squares “filled with a cartoon character talking to you will not make people feel inappropriate.”

In contrast, Facebook has directly turned to virtual reality, publicly beta Horizon Workrooms, which is a free application designed to allow employees to work collaboratively in virtual offices through Oculus headsets. The user is represented by the torso of the cartoon avatar without legs. Spatial audio technology provides a higher sense of presence-users can hear the voices of other people around the room based on where they seem to be sitting in the imaginary shared space.

Microsoft’s more progressive approach—and 250 million people use Teams at least once a month, while Facebook has 7 million paying users using its existing workplace communications software—makes employees more likely to experience the new metaverse technology. To experts in the field. Peter Barrett, a venture capitalist who invests in augmented reality, said that mixing virtual images and real faces in group meetings is a clever way to make people feel more comfortable interacting with the cartoon version of their colleagues.

But he and others warn that it is not clear whether people will welcome new forms of virtual work or find them fulfilling. Barrett said that after the pressure of the pandemic, piling up more types of digital interactions on workers will not make up for what is lost in interpersonal interactions. “Everyone has experienced the exhaustion of interacting with someone through Zoom. We want to be with other people.”

He said that most users may also find VR and AR headsets uncomfortable and interference within a short period of time, which means that the new virtual work experience “must be excellent to overcome the burden of the device.”

Sarah Roberts, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that if today’s remote workers were attracted to the virtual version of the office they left behind for most of the day, it would undermine many people’s already acquired The sense of control of their work and life since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

She said: “We seem to be at the receiving end of duplicating meeting rooms and constant meetings in a new virtual form.” The main content of re-implementing these office life shows that “managers demand to maintain control over the working class and its activities.”

Despite the potential risks and the obstacles they face in getting people to adopt new ways of working, technology companies believe that when only some employees return to the office, employers will turn to Metaverse as a way to promote cooperation.

At the same time, for the technology companies that build Xinyuan Universe, taking the lead in introducing technology into the office has another benefit: the opportunity to create a digital self that people may carry with them in a wider range of work and life.

Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s technical researcher in charge of artificial intelligence and mixed reality, said that moving between different meta-universes is like switching between websites on the Internet today-although unlike the world today, users will Hope to obtain a lasting digital identity, as well as other digital identities. Property, follow them around.

Former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Brookings Institution researcher Tom Wheeler (Tom Wheeler) said that as a place where many people may create personal avatars, Facebook can use these new digital identities to track users as they move in other meta-universes. Personal data. mechanism.

“The important thing is that my avatar will continue to create 21st century assets-digital information,” Wheeler said. “Can these data be interoperable? This is not how the Internet works today.”

The technical foundation for how Metaverse is connected has not yet been laid. Although most companies have verbally promised to build an interoperable world, it is unclear how open these will be.

Kipman said that navigating between meta-universes requires the equivalent of an Internet browser in today’s online world. Microsoft has created the first of these, called Mesh-Kipman expects companies such as Facebook to follow this move because their goal is to combine a wider range of virtual experiences. But the general technical standards that enable these tasks have not yet been established.

If the standards are finally agreed, then how far companies will go in adopting these standards or making their digital domain truly open to others is also an open question.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Institute of Digital Public Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that Facebook had strictly restricted the behavior of third-party developers on its services. He added that allowing access to avatars from elsewhere might be seen as the lowest level of openness, but this would represent “a very limited form of interoperability.”

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