Why AI in the Metaverse Will Change Everything
Artificial Intelligence (otherwise known as AI) has fascinated audiences around the world for years—whether it’s Skynet in the ‘Terminator’ franchise or HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ the prospect of machines thinking and feeling is pretty wild! Thing is, AI is developing quickly, and it’s going to play a pivotal role in the way the Metaverse works. Let’s find out why!
A Thinking, Feeling Machine
We may still be a ways off from machines that are self-aware and capable of actual thought, but AI has always been a hot topic, one that is increasingly spoken about. A couple of days ago a friend of mine shared a link to DALL-E mini —for those of you who don’t know, the original DALL-E (a portmanteau of modern surrealist artist Salvador Dali and Disney Pixar’s 2008 3D-animated hit WALL-E) is a ‘trained neural network’ capable of generating images based on natural language. Puns notwithstanding, DALL-E mini has been an endless source of amusement for myself and my developer friend (because devs need friends too!)
Much like its big brother, DALL-E mini allows you to input virtually any text prompt you can imagine. After a few seconds of waiting, it will render nine fully computer-generated images based on your prompt, regardless of how ridiculous it might be. For example, here’s the result of the prompt ‘snails in space suits orbiting Earth:’
Now obviously the images aren’t perfect, and the AI isn’t as advanced as the as-yet unreleased DALL-E 2 , which is actually capable of creating perfect images based on natural language…and I’m not even kidding. This isn’t technology that is ‘around the corner’ or ‘coming some day in the future’—it’s right here, right now. Let that sink in.
The Death of Art?
The repercussions of completely AI-generated imagery are far-reaching, potentially farther than our minds are capable of comprehending right now. Just as the camera led to ‘the death of the painting,’ AI-generated images could well lead to ‘the death of the artist.’
Well, maybe the death of the artist is a bit of a stretch, but according to a recent article by Analytics India Magazine , AI could well put an end to the stock image industry as we know it. I mean, why pay for a copyrighted image when you can just generate an unlimited number of perfectly unique pictures for your company using AI?
And if the article is right, in 2021, the stock image industry was valued at $4.68 billion USD. That’s no small sum, and by 2027, this valuation is expected to grow to a staggering $7 billion USD. However, depending on how available AI like DALL-E 2 will become to businesses or the general public in the near future, this valuation may in fact be totally off base.
Of course none of this is certain, and there’s questions about the images DALL-E’s neural network analyzes in order to generate its own images. For now, there are a lot more questions about its legitimacy as a tool for profit than there are answers.
What is abundantly clear is that AI is getting smarter, and when we consider deepfakes , propaganda, misinformation (disinformation?) and the ubiquitous presence of multinational corporations, the possibilities start to get a lot…darker.
But on the other hand, when we start to consider other developing technologies such as VR, AR and the Metaverse, well, the possibilities are pretty damn incredible!
The Metaverse is About Immersion
Here’s the problem with everything that currently exists in terms of ‘the Metaverse’—none of it is compelling or immersive enough to be considered a hyperreality in the truest sense. Yes, ‘hyperreality’ is indeed an actual concept, and it’s not a new one. It was first proposed by Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulations (1981) and, to grossly oversimplify, hyperreality is essentially ‘the inability of a subject to make any kind of real distinction between reality itself and a simulation of reality.’
Sound familiar? Yes, VR, AR, and current iterations of the Metaverse (or metaverses?) are all supposedly examples of hyperreality, but I’m not so sure I agree. To my mind, if you still have some awareness that you are in another reality (other than foreknowledge of the fact that it isn’t real), you’re not really immersed, so you’re not really in a hyperreality and therefore not really in THE Metaverse.
So wearable technology like headsets, gloves, haptic vests and all that are all interesting examples of how to recreate actual sensory experiences in a virtual space, but they aren’t necessarily the definitive answer to the realization of THE Metaverse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re invalid or not worth using, but if anything, they’re part of Metaverse 1.0 (or 2.0, but just humor me).
The Metaverse is the Ultimate Hyperreality
Not sure if anyone’s said this already, but if not, please quote me: ‘THE Metaverse is the ultimate hyperreality.’ Now this is all well and good, but how do we actually get to this point? In truth, it’s going to take a confluence of technologies, and probably a lot of time and phases, but let me break it down for you:
- Cryptocurrencies (tradable Metaverse currencies)
- Blockchain (for recording transactions and handling the economy of the Metaverse)
- Decentralized Finance or DeFi (for exchanging cryptocurrencies and providing additional financial services in the Metaverse)
- Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs (for virtual items and goods in the Metaverse)
- Virtual Reality or VR (to provide for sufficient immersion in the Metaverse)
- Augmented Reality or AR (to allow participants to interact with the Metaverse while partially inside of or completely outside of it)
- Artificial Intelligence (for creating compelling environments, new challenges and expanding the Metaverse as a whole, and more)
And all of these elements, to a lesser or greater degree, are already being trialed (or even fully integrated) into existing Metaverse projects. Keep in mind, the potential applications of AI that I listed above are just a brief overview. More specifically, it will be able to do the following:
- Seamlessly translate spoken language into one or more other languages that players from other cultural backgrounds and countries can understand
- Act as a digital companion for players so they can more easily and meaningfully interact with the world around them
- Help manage the affairs and schedules of players, both within and outside of the Metaverse (even managing more menial tasks autonomously)
- Act as a virtual assistant, informing players of new opportunities, events, job postings or ad hoc work that may be available
- Help players optimize their workflows and even carry out some work-related tasks on their behalf
- Ensure that players are only exposed to content that is appropriate to their age, gender, cultural background and individual preferences
- Allow the player to spend more time doing the things they love and building meaningful relationships with people who are similar to them
I could actually go on and on, but I’ll spare you for now. In reality, once AI becomes evolved enough, there’s no telling just how much it’ll be able to do—and there’s really no need to be scared. If humans work together to create AI that is just, fair, friendly and helpful, then we’re all going to be totally fine—I guarantee it!
AI Is Bound to The Metaverse
AI’s role in helping shape a compelling and indistinguishable hyperreality is indisputable. In order to achieve the levels of immersion and sensory authenticity required, AI will still need to go through a number of evolutionary steps, and we’ll probably see several iterations of THE Metaverse as it continues to develop.
At what point we arrive at THE Metaverse is a matter of opinion, but if you go by more established popular theory, it’s pretty much when it arrives at the point of hyperreality, which is kind of the same thing as the Turing test . Who knows? Maybe the two are intertwined—the inability to tell a virtual reality apart from reality itself coupled with an AI that operates on the same level as other human beings, or even beyond.
What is certain is that interest and investment in THE Metaverse is growing, and we are very much at the start of it all. Everything up to this point has been a precursor or prototype of the final product, which is likely a number of years away. That said, AI’s role in shaping the universe is massive and will undoubtedly change the way we go about our daily lives, both now, and certainly in the future.