It’s Monday morning and you’re in Hong Kong having coffee with your new boss, a virtual robot powered by artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, your digital clone attends another meeting on your behalf, taking notes that you’ll review later, but you’re actually working from your room in Rio de Janeiro.
It might sound straight out of a sci-fi novel, but it’s the future of work promised by the metaverse and by NetDragon, a Chinese company that recently named an AI-powered virtual humanoid robot as as rotating CEO of its flagship subsidiary, Fujian NetDragon. Websoft.
The Metaverse, often dubbed the next version of the internet, promises a 3D virtual world that people enter through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets to conduct business, hang out and play games via their virtual avatars or holograms.
NetDragon Websoft, the Chinese game company that rose to prominence with games such as Eudemons Online, Heroes Evolved, Conquer Online and Under Oath, is betting heavily on this new digital world and its associated technologies.
“From our perspective, the metaverse is here to stay, and an AI CEO is part of the plan to get there. We’re doing it for real,” said company vice president Dr. Simon. Leung, told CNBC in September.
The appointment of Tang Yu, the name of the AI-driven virtual robot CEO, “is a pioneering move in using AI to transform business management and take operational efficiency to a new level. level,” the company said in a statement. statementadding that it was a major step” towards a “metaverse organization”.
What exactly will Tang Yu do?
The company said the humanoid robot would “streamline process flow, improve work task quality, and improve execution speed.”
Tang Yu will also function as “a real-time data hub and analytical tool to support rational decision-making in day-to-day operations and enable a more effective risk management system.”
Furthermore, “Tang Yu should play a vital role in developing talent and ensuring a fair and efficient workplace for all employees.”
“We will ask Tang Yu to help us run the business, and then we can shift the resources we have to do his work in other segments that will help us grow the business,” Leung said.
The statement did not provide any details on whether Tang Yu would make independent decisions as CEO or whether the robot would be overseen by a human.
The company did not respond to Euronews Next’s request for comment.
His announcement hints at the profound changes our workplaces could undergo if and when companies truly embrace remote working and the metaverse.
What Working in the Metaverse Could Look Like
The metaverse workplace could see us working from anywhere in the world, thanks to augmented reality and motion sensors that make our digital avatars act like us. Our workspace could also be customized to our quirks and preferences.
This would potentially eliminate the need for office space and physical equipment, as well as the need to connect with each other, face to face.
Colleagues working in separate geographic locations could collaborate as if they were physically in the same room, with features like digital interactive whiteboards for brainstorming.
This year, Microsoft began rolling out Mesh, an augmented reality virtual meeting system that will be integrated with Teams.
According to Gartner, the international consultancy, a quarter of the population will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026 – whether for work, shopping, socializing or for leisure.
Osborne Clarke, an international law firm providing services on all matters related to law, including employment issues, data protection and hybrid working, published a report on the metaverse in 2021. It says it is already helping businesses plan for this brave new world.
“Our clients sometimes have employment issues, and we help them through them, but we also work with them to predict what the issues will be over the next six months, the next 12 months, that will be for them,” Olivia Sinfield, a partner at Osborne Clarke, later told Euronews.
“With something like the Metaverse, it’s really crucial that they start planning and preparing for it now, which is why we need to get the upper hand to be able to have those conversations with our customers.”
The health risks of the metaverse at work
Despite the potential benefits that the metaverse workspace can provide, such as being able to choose more freely where you live, reducing travel costs, and virtually eliminating the need for physical offices, there is concern: is will it do us any good?
The European office of the World Health Organization has already warned the metaverse could pose public health risks.
“Spending more time online connected to the metaverse with gadgets can reduce physical activity levels and give advertisers many more ways to promote unhealthy products such as junk food, tobacco or alcohol,” said the Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, said in a press release early this year.
But the health implications could go far deeper than reduced physical activity and exposure to unhealthy advertisements.
Human social behavior is important to our health and survival, and Studies show psychiatric disorders often involve some disturbance of normal social behavior. It’s because we’re social creatures — it’s in our DNA, and our hormones are designed to propel social engagement.
The coronavirus pandemic has already highlighted the risks of less face-to-face interaction, as has the rise of social media.
Numerous studies have warned that excessive use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok could cause symptoms of depression, addictive behavior, loneliness and anxiety.
We’ve also been alerted to how remote working makes isolation worse.
A pan-European survey carried out in September by LifeWorks, a wellbeing services company, found that 39% of workers surveyed were at high risk of mental health problems. Almost a third of respondents said they often felt lonely.
“We can transact in these 20-minute Zoom calls and then move on. But that doesn’t create a sense of belonging,” said Paula Allen, global head of research at LifeWorks. told Euronews Next earlier this year.
A separate study by researchers from Boston University and the University of Canterbury found that the loneliest employees were those who worked from home.
But the metaverse presents itself as a hybrid between working from home and working in the office: it is not quite remote, nor really present.
Depersonalization and anxiety
More research needs to be done to understand the potential health implications of working in the metaverse, but some studies point to other possible risks.
A 2010 study found that people were more likely to experience heightened dissociative feelings, also known as depersonalization-derealization disorder, after virtual reality immersion.
This disorder is characterized by a feeling of being disconnected from our bodies and thoughts and can lead to severe anxiety and panic attacks.
Some VR users on Reddit have reported feeling unwell after prolonged VR sessions: “It’s almost like a little hangover, depending on how intense your VR experience is (…) [But the physical symptoms] usually fade within the first 1-2 hours and improve over time”.
On a more positive note, other studies suggest that working in the metaverse “may alleviate screen fatigue and mental health issues associated with remote work isolation,” according to Osborne Clarke’s Sinfield and his colleague Alex Farrell-Thomas.
“Interaction in the metaverse is more like the human connection we experience working and collaborating in person,” they wrote on the Human Resources website. The staff today.
“Employers have a duty to look after the health and well-being of their employees and especially now after COVID,” Sinfield told Euronews Next.
“They will have to be able to reassure employees before they expect them to stop working this way”.