New Week Same Humans #60
Nvidia wants to create your twin inside the metaverse. Chicago and LA are trialling universal basic income. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote about optimism, realism, and despair when it comes to the climate crisis. Go here to read Hoping for a Miracle.💡
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This week, innovation around the metaverse ticks into overdrive; including AI-fuelled avatars from Nvidia, and plans for a dating metaverse from Tinder’s parent company.
Also, an update on the predicted impact of climate pledges at COP26. And three glimpses of a new post-pandemic normal when it comes to work.
🌐 World builders, unite
This week, a welter of innovation centred on the techno-vision of the moment. Yes, I’m talking about the metaverse (again).
Chip giant Nvidia announced Omniverse Avatar, a new platform for creating AI-fuelled virtual agents.
Essentially, they’re metaversal robots. An Omniverse Avatar might be a customer service assistant who interacts with us via a screen at a drive-thru. Or a 3D animated character inside a virtual world, using AI to understand speech and generate its replies. This one is modelled on Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang:
The medium-term bet is clear: much of our lives – and much commerce – is about to shift into metaversal worlds. Brands are going to want a new army of virtual representatives. Omniverse Avatar will be happy supply them.
But that’s not even half the metaverse-focused announcements this week. Ready?
The Sandbox, a popular open platform where users can build and sell their own virtual worlds, raised $93 million in an investment round led by Softbank. Seoul city government announced plans for a virtual world in which citizens can meet with officials and access public services. Tinder announced work on a dating metaverse featuring avatar-fuelled virtual experiences. And ahead of Black Friday, Alibaba launched a Metaverse Art Exhibition inside Taobao where users can by NFT artworks.
⚡ NWSH Take: Phew, so much metaverse. Yes, most of this news takes the form of announcements rather than finished work. And Alibaba’s new art metaverse isn’t really a metaverse at all; it’s a little tour around some NFT art. Still, taken together all this is a powerful signal of where we’re heading. // We stand at the eve of a massive, multi-decade journey of innovation focused on virtual worlds. And when it comes to transformative impact, that journey has the potential to far surpass any previous iteration of the internet. Think the iPhone and App Store changed our lives? Get ready. // One key implication? Back in 2007, the future belonged to app developers. Now, it belongs to world builders. The future 20-somethings who’ll build our work, entertainment and social future are today’s ten-year-olds, creating worlds for their friends inside Roblox and Minecraft. It’s enough to make any parent see video gaming in a whole new light.
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🌊 Not waving but drowning
On Sunday I wrote about the impacts of climate change on the collective human psyche. Specifically, about whether it’s still reasonable – or useful – to maintain hope that we’ll limit warming to the 1.5C target laid out in Paris in 2015.
Now, new modelling work based on events at COP26 offers a further insight.
Climate Action Tracker (CAT), the most respected source of independent climate modelling, says the short-term goals laid down at COP26 put us on track for 2.4C by the end of the century.
This article gives a good snapshot of a world warmed by 2C; obviously 2.4C would be far worse.
I know I’ve been writing a lot about global heating targets recently. It seems to me that the physical reality of what lies ahead – and the psychological and spiritual consequences – are becoming ever-more oppressive. And, of course, for many around the world they’ve already arrived.
🤖 Fully automated future?
This week, a glimpse at the future of work from three different angles.
The US is still in the grip of a labour shortage; new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of people who haven’t had a job for at least six months remains stubbornly high at 2.3 million.
There are multiple causes, but it’s increasingly clear that prominent among them is a mismatch between the kind of skills employers are looking for and those on offer.
One consequence? A record drive among employers towards automation technologies, including robots. Last week I mentioned that McDonald’s is trialling automated ordering at ten Chicago drive-thrus. This week came news that Walmart is using driverless trucks to supercharge growth of its delivery business.
New data from the International Federation of Robotics paints a clear picture:
Meanwhile, Los Angeles and Chicago just announced new universal basic income (UBI) trials aimed at low-income citizens. The initiatives will see 3,200 people in LA given $1,000 a month, and 5,000 Chicago residents given $500 a month; that makes these trials the largest UBI experiments currently running in the US.
⚡ NWSH Take: The labour shortage in the US – which has parallels in Europe – is complex, but underlying it are deep structural shifts. That includes ageing populations, and rising numbers of young people unwilling to work for The Man when they can take a chance on the gig/creative/internet economy. // What happens next? This week’s news offers the outlines of an answer. // Many will see investment in automation tech as long overdue and a plus for future productivity. But lots of these jobs, once automated away, are never coming back. // Back in March I wrote about why UBI is an idea whose time has come; this week is a reminder of the powerful forces driving that truth. A post-pandemic rush to automation will help to decouple human labour from productivity and abundance. The benefits are clear, but we need answers for those left out in the cold. If we get it right, we have the chance to design a new kind of society. One in which millions are more able to do what humans do best: connect with, care for, and truly see one another.
🗓️ Also this week
🧑💻 Portugal has made it illegal for employers to bother workers outside their normal working hours. New legislation means firms could face fines if they text or email employees in the evenings or at weekends.
⚖️ The EU has upheld a record antitrust ruling against Google. It means the firm will have to pay a fine of €2.4 billion fine, unless it takes its case to the European Court of Justice.
👗 Fashion retailer H&M debuted a virtual version of its new vegan clothes collection inside Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The brand previously built Looop Island, a special destination inside the game, to host these kinds of events.
🎥 Film director Peter Jackson has sold his special effects firm, Weta, to games giant Unity for $1.6 billion. The firm created the visual magic that fuelled hits such as The Lord of the Rings and Avatar.
🛰️ Amazon wants to launch a fleet of 7,774 satellites into low Earth orbit. It’s all part of Project Kuiper, a plan to provide wireless broadband internet. Back in Do We Need a World Government? I wrote Elon Musk’s plan to launch 42,000 Starlink satellites and how its damaging our view of the night sky.
💥 Rolls Royce has been given the go-ahead by the UK government to roll out innovative new mini-nuclear reactors. The modular reactors form a key part of the UK’s plan to shift to carbon-neutral energy.
🖼️ The digital artist Beeple sold his video sculpture, Human One, for $29 million. The work, which I wrote about last week in New Week #59, went to an anonymous online bidder in Switzerland during a three-minute auction at Christie’s in NYC.
🌔 NASA says it won’t put humans back on the moon until at least 2025; a year later than planned. An official said the Project Artemis moon landing had been held up for seven months due to a lawsuit filed by Blue Origin, who were complaining that rival SpaceX were awarded a key contract. This week, a judge threw out that lawsuit.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,905,848,917
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7965073687
💉 Global population vaccinated: 40.0%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 86% complete
📖 On this day: On 10 November 1983, a 28-year-old Bill Gates presents Windows 1.0 to the public in NYC. It is received poorly by technology critics, who complain about performance issues and the need to use a mouse to navigate.
Thanks for reading this week.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, this won’t be the last time I write about the metaverse. New worlds are emerging around us. But we are, at heart, still the same old humans.
It’s a story that could have been made for this newsletter. And one I’ll keep investigating.
There’s one thing you can do to help with that mission: share!
Now you’ve reached the end of this week’s instalment, why not forward the email to someone who’d also enjoy it? Or share it across one of your social networks, with a note on why you found it valuable. Remember: the larger and more diverse the NWSH community becomes, the better for all of us.
I’ll be back this Sunday. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.