Computer scientists are considering the future potential of the Internet – University Affairs

Getting it right means considering a range of factors including fair access, respect for privacy, and mental and physical well-being.

Ever since Meta (formerly Facebook) announced its plans last October to build a “metaverson,” speculation has been raging about what it might look like, and how it might affect our lives. The company envisions a network of immersive, three-dimensional and interoperable virtual worlds driven by artificial intelligence, where we will work, play, shop and socialize.

Among the existing technologies that are supposed to help us are virtual reality, augmented reality, user-generated video games, and blockchain. Others may appear, such as computer interfaces that would allow users to monitor applications with their thoughts with an electroencephalogram or implanted sensor. The idea, at the broadest level, is that these technologies will combine to create graphically rich virtual spaces with a high degree of plausibility that will blend seamlessly with, or replace parts of our lives offline.

To help realize this vision, Meta recently donated $ 510,000 in grants to 17 computer labs at 11 Canadian universities to support research that “advances innovations needed to build for the metaverse.” Researchers can use these $ 30,000 unrestricted grants as they see fit to support their work in human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and next-generation digital technologies.

For computer scientists, whether the metaverse lives up to its expectations will largely depend on how thoughtfully we design and develop its infrastructure, features, and services. Right, they say, will require a healthy balance between Meta’s business interests, other companies leading this push, and users ’needs. To do that, we need to consider factors such as fair access, respect for privacy, mental and physical well-being and technical functionality, they add. Their expert insights shed light on the opportunities and challenges we face, and the actions we should take if we are to realize a metaverse that is functional, inclusive, decentralized, and healthy.

Promote AI

Harnessing the full potential of cyberspace will depend on the progress we make in artificial intelligence, which means how we make robots perform tasks commonly performed by humans, says Richard Sutton, a renowned computer science professor at the University of Alberta. Dr. Sutton is the founder of enhanced learning, a branch of machine learning in which robots learn optimal behavior by interacting with their environments through trial and error and earning positive or negative rewards based on their actions. This differs significantly from the dominant paradigm of controlled machine learning in which a machine relies on a tagged database programmed by a human to identify patterns and make predictions.

“Enhanced learning is more naturalistic,” said Dr. Sutton, who is a principal investigator at the university’s Laboratory of Enhanced Learning and Artificial Intelligence. “It’s learning how an animal or a person would do – interacting with the world and seeing what has better or worse results … It’s the standard model of how the brain processes rewards.”

After decades of research, Dr. Sutton believes that enhanced learning-trained robots will perform many important functions that we can expect in the metaverse, such as giving advice on stock trading, providing customer service as store avatars, or serving as characters in the metaverse. . Video games.

“We need smart systems that are still sensitive to our suggestions so that they can help us make smart decisions,” Dr. Sutton said. “They should be aware of our purpose and try to achieve that mission.”

Working 9 to?

For many of us, using the metaverse will affect how we make a living. As computer scientist Joanna McGrenere sees it, digital technology has already blurred the boundaries between our work and personal lives, a trend accelerated by the Zoom pandemic outbreak. The metaverse is set to aggravate this trend.

“I can imagine that in the intended immersion of the metaverse, it will be very easy to waste time, and that it has somehow taken over in a way that is as unhealthy as possible,” Dr. McGrenere, who is the head of the eDAPT research group at the University of British Columbia (who is the recipient of a Meta grant). “I think more and more people will need help figuring out how their time is spent at work, and whether it matches what they need to produce in a classic productivity sense, but also being responsible for well-being.”

This was the conclusion of a 2020 research paper co-authored by Dr. McGrenere, which looked at how the growing cognitive and temporal demands of functioning in the ever-linked digital age require a rethinking of labor productivity measures. The researchers surveyed 40 knowledgeable workers about their personal productivity, how they defined good use of time at work, and their feelings about their work time. “We anticipate highlighting the integration of emotional tracking and the need for human self-reflection in addition to automatic tracking” of working time in a possible restructuring of current productive tools, the authors wrote.

“If you can put in a lightweight, easy-to-use tool, how do you feel about how your time is spent, and then you can think about that at the end of the day,” said Dr. McGrenere, “you can start. To see,” or, when I spend 15 hours a day in the metaverse, maybe I don’t feel so good at the end of the week “or” maybe I feel great “and sort out what works for them.”

Promoting well-being

Rita Orji agrees that promoting well-being in the next repetition of the internet is important, not only at work but in all spheres of life, and that will require innovative thinking and methods. The computer scientist leads Dalhousie University’s Persuasive Computing Lab, which explores how to design interactive, personalized technologies, such as programs and games that promote health and well-being, especially among underserved groups. Her recent research has focused on persuasive games to prevent diseaseand interventions that use augmented reality and virtual reality for healthy behavior change.

While each new technological innovation creates both opportunities and problems, Dr. Orji is optimistic about the potential of the metaverse to offer personalized, easy-to-use, and accessible healthcare and support. Specifically, she says, it could have a positive impact in areas such as monitoring our physical and mental health, encouraging us to adopt healthier behaviors, assisting health care providers in diagnosing and treating patients, and “promoting the greater good,” as she put it. .

“What really excites me is determining how to design digital applications that can empower people and improve lives, and are smart enough to understand your specific context,” said Dr. Orji, who is the Canadian Research Chair in Persuasion Technology and another recipient of Meta grant. .

Doing so will require avoiding a common tech-industry trap – creating applications that serve narrow interests or populations, or as Dr. Orji says, the “chosen few who are privileged” with enough resources to access those applications. Growing up in a remote Nigerian village with no access to electricity or piped water, she would like to see cyberspace serve users of all stripes, including those from marginalized socio-economic, sexual, racial or differently-able groups. To that end, she says, we will need to emphasize participatory design, which includes the input of all stakeholders to create truly responsive tools and services.

“Deciding that we will receive diverse voices and experiences in design at the early stage of concept is key to inclusion,” she said.

Hack the hardware

The inclusion of women in hardware design to build the metaverse is a topic that computer scientist Mark Hancock has researched. He co-authored system overhaul on how virtual reality research considers the sexual aspects of “cyber disease”. A phenomenon more common in women than men, cyber disease occurs when exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headache and fatigue. Dr. Hancock and his co-authors concluded that the issue had not been systematically studied and deserved attention at every stage of virtual reality research.

“There are known gender issues with virtual reality technology that suggest that female identifying people are more likely to experience cyber disease, and the technology industry has a history of ignoring equality and diversity during its design processes, perhaps unintentionally,” said Dr. Hancock, who is the director of Touchlab at the University of Waterloo, which focuses on developing methods for interacting with information about new digital interfaces. “It is also a well-known fact that it is difficult to recruit women to take part in studies involving VR, as they often describe it as not designed ‘for them’.”

Dr. Hancock is also exploring incorporation, which occurs when our awareness of the hardware components disappears and we feel that we are truly inhabiting our virtual self. Full embodiment will be essential for people to have meaningful metaverse experiences, he said, but how much we can trick our brains into thinking that a virtual body is our real body depends on further advances in VR technology.

Dr. Hancock and his team watched measure how embedded we feel by interacting with different VR tools – research that has proven to use our hands, as opposed to using a controller, leads to a more embodied experience. Another study he co-authored found that the transport quality of a virtual reality headset can alleviate the productivity-impairing distractions that are common in open offices, improving a worker’s performance and job satisfaction.

“Actually being able to feel like things are in a virtual world – there are still technical challenges,” Dr. Hancock said. “You can have rich experience using a VR headset, but it doesn’t exist in the sense that you can’t reach and catch things, you have to use a controller …. Can we adapt to that new way of being? Maybe, yes.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.