Now You Need To Know What A “Metaverse” Is — 6 Reasons To Listen Up

Prepare to step into the internet…(sort of)

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Last week, the tech media treated us to the latest power move to promote a future of “visual search“, with social giant Snapchat pushing their Scan feature front and center on the app’s camera. Scan allows Snapchat users to detect and search for things they find in the physical world — clothes, dog breeds, food nutrition information, plants, wine, furniture, etc. And as the app opens in camera mode, this visual search feature is now available to 300 million daily users, which could see Snapchat evolving from a messaging app to a leading visual search engine (see full reporting from The Verge).

While this move toward visual search clearly presents commercial opportunities for retailers (note: Scan isn’t currently being used for ad targeting, but it’s not difficult to see how this is where it could wind up…), arguably there some advantages for users. For one, it could force us to drag ourselves out of cyberspace and into a healthier, more interactive relationship with the world around us.

After all, how many of us are guilty of disengaging from our surroundings in order to Google something that’s physically right in front of us? (*Raises hand*).

Yet, just as the merging of our on-and-offline worlds starts to look good for our vitamin D intake, we hear the noise of year’s buzziest of buzzwords being chanted more loudly in Silicon Valley: The Metaverse. If you don’t already know what it is, then you should know that it’s on its way to turn us all into washed out, disengaged husks of remote humanity. But here’s a more helpful description from the Wall Street Journal:

“The metaverse concept, rooted in science-fiction novels such as “Snow Crash” and “Ready Player One,” encompasses an extensive online world transcending individual tech platforms, where people exist in immersive, shared virtual spaces. Through avatars, people would be able to try on items available in stores or attend concerts with friends, just as they would offline.”

Or more briefly from the NY Times: “…a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the analog one in which we live.”

If that didn’t make it too much clearer, here’s why you should still sit up and care:

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Online choice “nudge” and the convenient encroachment of AI

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The beginnings of the internet seem so long ago to those of us who lived through them. Hours spent trawling through pre-Google search results, which often ranged from the useless to the bizarre. Blindly researching gifts and listening to music, sans intelligently selected recommendations.  Checking social media accounts of our own volition, rather than through prompting from “notifications”.

Then the world began to change.

Under the banner of convenience, clever algorithms started to adapt both to our interests and – critically – the interests of commercial entities. We saw (or rather didn’t see) the covert introduction of the digital “nudges” that now regularly play upon our cognitive blind spots, and work to “guide” our decision-making.  Continue reading