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Mark Zuckerberg’s ambition to dominate the ‘Virtual Universe’ is threatened: A trillion-dollar giant officially joins the war, ready for 250 million test users

The Financial Times opens the article saying: After 2 years stuck with countless online group meetings, are office workers around the world ready to take another step into the digital universe? not yet?

This week, Microsoft outlined a plan to introduce up to 250 million users of the Teams app to a more diverse virtual world called a “virtual universe”. It is worth mentioning that this move comes right after Facebook’s statement of vision with online meetings taking place in a virtual reality environment. A few days earlier, the social network announced it was changing its name to Meta to reflect the company’s stronger focus on the virtual world.

VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY

Both companies say users can create avatars or animated versions of themselves that are completely free to move between different virtual worlds. For office workers, that means attending meetings, hanging out with colleagues or visiting the “virtual twin” of their real factories and offices around the world.

However, the significance of this issue remains unclear. Including what technology platform makes it possible and what conditions a virtual universe needs to allow you to access avatars created elsewhere.

As a first step, Microsoft says in the first half of next year, Teams users will be able to start appearing as avatars in online meetings they’ve attended. Team leader Jared Spataro predicts that having one of the squares in a group video chat “filled with a talking cartoon character won’t make you feel out of place”.

Meanwhile, Facebook is aiming straight at virtual reality with a beta of Horizon Workroom — a free app designed to let employees work together in a virtual office via an Oculus device.

Users are represented by animated avatars with only torso, no legs, and spatial audio technology that provides the highest sense of presence. Users hear from others around the room based on where they are sitting in the imaginary communal space.

According to experts in the field, thanks to Microsoft’s “gradual” approach of 250 million Teams users, they have an advantage in experiencing virtual universe technology. These hundreds of users will now use it at least once a month, compared with the 7 million paying users Facebook has for its existing workplace communication software. According to Peter Barrett, a venture capitalist who has invested in augmented reality, combining avatars and real faces is a smart way to get people started to feel comfortable interacting with real-life objects. Cartoon version of colleagues.

However, he and others warn that it is not clear whether people will welcome new forms of virtual work. Barrett added that many forms of digital interaction serving workers after the pandemic still do not make up for the lost face-to-face human interactions. “Everybody has experienced the fatigue of interacting with someone over Zoom. We all want to be with other human beings.”

Most users are also likely to find VR and AR headsets uncomfortable and intrusive for a short time, he said, meaning the new virtual work experience will “have to be extraordinary to get over the burden.” of equipment”.

Sarah Roberts, an associate professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, adds that if today’s telecommuters are engrossed in most of their day in virtual versions of the office, that will take away the sense of control that many people have gained.

“We seem to be in the final stages of scaling up conference rooms and continuous meetings in a new virtual form. The repositioning of these staples of office life for us,” she said. see the need for managers to maintain control over workers and their activities”.

Despite the potential risks and obstacles they face in getting people to adopt new ways of working, tech companies think employers will turn to the virtual universe as a way to foster collaboration at a time when only some of their employees return to the office.

Meanwhile, for tech companies building new virtual universes, being the first to bring technology into the office has another benefit: The opportunity to create a digital world where everyone carry on into their wider working life.

Alex Kipman, a technical expert in charge of artificial intelligence and mixed reality at Microsoft, said that traveling between different virtual universes would be like switching between web pages on the internet today, and the techniques that are used to move between different virtual universes would be like switching between web pages on the internet today. other digital assets, with them as they move around.

As a place where many people have the ability to create their own personal avatars, Facebook can use these new digital identities to track personal data as users move through other virtual universes. Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, said: “It is important that my avatar will continue to create the asset of the 21st century – digital information. And whether that data has any impact. Interoperable? That’s not how the Internet works today.”

WHAT’S THE FUTURE

The technical foundations of how to link users in virtual universes have not yet been laid, and although most participating companies pay for services to build interoperable worlds, they are not yet. It is clear how they will open.

Navigating between virtual universes would require an internet browser equivalent to today’s online world, Kipman said. Microsoft created the first of these, called Mesh – a move that Kipman predicts will be followed by companies like Facebook as they aim to bring together a wide range of virtual experiences. But the general technological standards for performing these tasks are still unclear.

If standards are eventually agreed, it is also an open question as to how far companies will go in adopting them or in making their digital realm truly open. for others.

According to Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Digital Public Infrastructure Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Facebook has a history of severely limiting what third-party developers can do on its services. Granting access to avatars from elsewhere could be seen as the bare minimum of openness, but that would represent “a very limited form of interoperability”, he added.

Source: Financial Times

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