Why the Metaverse Will Change the Way You Work
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Why the Metaverse Will Change the Way You Work

Virtual meetings that feel real, new ways to build and teach, plus jobs you haven’t heard of.

By SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN
Mon, Feb 21, 2022 2:47pmGrey Clock 5 min

In his job as a music-mastering engineer, Chris Longwood spends hours making Zoom calls and exchanging emails with artists around the globe to get a new album ready for release. He looks forward to the day he can meet with them in a virtual sound studio, editing tracks in real time.

“I see a future where my clients can put on a headset or glasses and be able to feel like they are in the studio with me,” said Mr. Longwood, a 35-year-old who lives in Houston. “We could have real back-and-forth conversations and not have to take turns talking, like on Zoom.”

Soon it won’t be science fiction. Tech visionaries expect scenarios much like this in the developing world they call the metaverse. When we need to get together with colleagues or customers to do more than chat, we’ll log into virtual spaces so realistic it will seem as if we’re physically in the same room. We’ll see each other in the form of avatars that, if we choose, look nearly identical to our real selves. And with specialized gloves on our real hands, we’ll be able to touch and manipulate virtual versions of goods like machinery or fabrics.

Many companies that embrace remote work will still turn to in-person meetings from time to time. But some workplace experts expect the new virtual realm to fundamentally change the way many people do their jobs—and also to create new jobs, some unknown today. Though the metaverse is still in early stages, and hardware can be expensive and clunky, these experts see strong potential benefits spurring companies to invest in coming years.

The metaverse is also expected to bring challenges, such as greater competition for jobs and increased turnover as employees’ locations become less important. Employers could more closely monitor workers’ behavior, raising privacy issues. And virtual offices will grapple with the need for new rules—for instance, avatar dress codes.

People aren’t expected to spend entire workdays wearing clunky headsets for virtual meetings. Instead, forecasters see the interactions with the virtual world happening when it’s most useful—either partially or as a full immersion. The hardware will become lighter, cheaper and more advanced.

“The metaverse will be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” says John Egan, chief executive of Paris-based forecasting firm L’Atelier BNP Paribas. “Our productive capacity is going to be significantly enlarged in the same way that computers and mobile phones enabled greater levels of productivity and complexity.”

Here are some of the ways the metaverse is expected to change the workplace.

Meet Me at the Virtual Whiteboard

Get ready to meet with colleagues and others from any location in an instant—no need for travel or even walking across a corporate campus.

“By virtue of teleportation, you can find people much faster,” says Florent Crivello, founder and CEO of Teamflow, a venture-backed startup that creates virtual office spaces.

Such meetings will go far beyond Zoom sessions, for instance enabling workers to collaborate on designing toys, furniture or buildings using 3D tools. During downtime, they could go bowling at a virtual alley to socialize. While an old-school call might do, gathering around a virtual watercooler could make for a more engaging experience, metaverse proponents say.

Working in virtual settings could help streamline what today are lengthy, complex processes. Tolga Kurtoglu, chief technology officer of HP Inc., envisions testing how new vehicles handle crashes before they’re manufactured. Virtual cars would replace real vehicles and dummies, and show how a vehicle performs under any number of weather or traffic conditions.

“The more you bring in next-generation collaboration tools, you will significantly accelerate product-development cycles,” Dr. Kurtoglu says.

A virtual setting could give people whose jobs require handling dangerous or expensive equipment a way to safely practice or experiment with new methods, says Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

That type of application will be what brings people to the metaverse, he says. “A lot of us think we’re going to put on goggles to come to offices,” he says, but “there’s got to be a reason to go into VR.”

A Job You Haven’t Heard of

When the Web emerged, businesses across sectors created online presences. A similar development will happen in the metaverse, bringing new jobs, forecasters say. New virtual shops, entertainment venues, classrooms and other spaces will need live support—as well as people to build them in the first place.

Some jobs that emerge may not exist today. Before the internet, “would you have ever guessed there would be people called social-media influencers making a living?” Dr. Kurtoglu says. With the metaverse, “It’s likely that new job categories will be created that we don’t have visibility into just yet.”

Other jobs will change. For example, real-estate agents will show customers virtual replicas of properties for sale and tour guides will give virtual previews of real-world vacations, L’Atelier’s Mr. Egan predicts. Eventually, purely virtual homes and vacation destinations could become part of the offerings.

Mr. Egan also foresees jobs that evolve around AI-powered bots designed to imitate the look and behaviors of real people, living or dead. “Someone has to build these experiences,” he says, and others will then come up with ways to earn a living from them. “Imagine,” he says, “your job is to use archive footage to design a lecture by Albert Einstein, a concert by Elvis or a poetry reading by Maya Angelou.”

Hiring and Training Morph

The metaverse could further the trend of workers living far from their employers, giving job seekers and companies more options. “Talent won’t be acquired depending on location,” says Richard Kerris, an executive at Nvidia Corp. who is co-leading a metaverse-infrastructure project called Omniverse.

At least part of the job-interview process will take place in the metaverse. That means, among other things, candidates will need to acquire appropriate avatar attire, says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of modern work at Microsoft Corp. “How you represent yourself in the virtual world will be just as important as how you represent yourself in the real world,” he says.

Training for new hires will evolve. Virtual-reality and augmented-reality technology—already used for military, law-enforcement and healthcare job training—will become more sophisticated, tech visionaries say. New hires at manufacturing plants will learn how to operate complex machinery; at warehouses they’ll get trained on how to pack boxes; and at retail stores they’ll get to know every product and where each belongs–all in virtual replicas of those places.

“The biggest difference when it comes to training is that the feedback loops will be 10 times shorter,” says Teamflow’s Mr. Crivello.

Accenture PLC created its own virtual-reality environments for training courses. Eventually workers will be able to enter VR to practice giving managerial feedback to an AI bot or visit an oil rig for simulated training.

“It’s scratching the surface with respect to what we think immersive learning unlocks for us—you can just keep doing it until you get better at it,” said Jason Warnke, who leads Global Digital Experience at Accenture PLC.

New Privacy Questions

Along with advances in work and training, the metaverse could provide organizations with an exponentially more powerful tool for oversight and surveillance. Your boss might miss seeing you roll your eyes at an in-person or video meeting—in the metaverse, if eye-tracking is enabled on your headset, that expression can be recorded and logged. If coupled with data about body temperature or heart rate from a smart watch, the information could be used to try to infer a worker’s emotional state, says Kurt Opsahl, general counsel of privacy-watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The nudges that people have become accustomed to as online consumers—like product suggestions or refill reminders—could become part of their metaverse work lives, says Brian Kropp, chief of human-resources research at research firm Gartner. You could get a notification that someone in another meeting mentioned something relevant to your own projects, or a mid-meeting prompt that a participant is drifting off.

“As the manager [you would] have a real-time dashboard of who’s paying attention, who’s not paying attention,” says Mr. Kropp. “You’ll get a nudge as a manager saying, ‘I noticed Bob seems to have a confused look on his face, now might be a good time to ask what he’s thinking,’ or ‘Jill hasn’t talked in the last 30 minutes, you should invite her to get involved.’”

A savvy manager might make these observations in a video meeting now, but in the metaverse the technology would do the observing and inform the boss, he says.

While that could be useful in finding ways to motivate workers, such technology could also be used to predict who might be a troublemaker and sideline them, Mr. Opsahl says. Or someone could be misread. “This is a concerning thing, whether it’s right or wrong,” he says. “If it’s able to understand and react to your emotional state, there’s the potential for manipulation or invasive misuse of that data.”



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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