SELLING THE SYNTHETIC UNREAL

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Should people care whether conversations they have with others are real, as long as they’re “authentic”?

Should people worry about pervasive surveillance at their jobs, in their vehicles, and even their homes, if the surveillance is providing more efficiency?

Should people strive to have real experiences, when illusory ones can engage and satisfy, and even offer greater sensory options at much lower cost and environmental impact?

Those are all questions that might reasonably be asked about the most important tech trends of 2022, as outlined by a new Accenture Report, “Meet Me In The Metaverse,” featured on the World Economic Forum (WEF) website.

The report argues that the increasingly “synthetic reality” around the corner is nothing to be alarmed about. The efficiencies and customized services and products it offers will render questions about its illusions, intrusions on privacy, and behavioral modifications…well, just not worth asking.

The report does point to legitimate innovations and empowering aspects of blockchain technology. The problem is that it also encourages what might be called the commercialization of “illusory value,” or actively conditioning people to see value in objectively dubious digital phenomena and creations.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the report is that it gives specific advice to the businessworld to plan for and counterprogram against objections to some of the more ersatz projected commericalizations of the metaverse. 

Four Trends That Will Shape Reality and Ourselves

Accenture is one of the world’s leading providers of business intelligence. The multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporation provides consulting to 91 of the the current Fortune 100 top companies, and more than three-quarters of the Global 500.

Their recent report identified four top trends that they advise companies to pay attention to 2022:

  1. “Webme”
  2. Programmable World
  3. The Unreal (Making Synthetic Authentic)
  4. Computing The Impossible

Webme Envisions “Persistent 3D” Living

From always connected to always virtually immersed—that’s the vision of what the metaverse may likely become in a “WebMe” future, according to Accenture.

Their report forecasts that the metaverse and web3 technologies including tokenized assets, digital ownership and interactions enabled by NFTs, DAOs and cryptocurrency incentivised blockchain networks, amount to nothing less than the evolution of the Internet:

“So, our current systems are designed for constraints that the next generation of the internet won’t have. Metaverse and Web3 innovations are transforming the fundamental underpinnings and operation of the virtual world. Instead of viewing the internet as a disparate collection of sites and apps, metaverse efforts envision a persistent 3D environment, with its own sense of place, where moving from work to a social platform is as simple as walking across the street.

“Building new platforms, products and services; securing partnerships and technology; and identifying the use cases and business models will take a lot of work.

“But behind the uncertainty, there is tremendous opportunity. The last time the internet went through a shift of this magnitude, Amazon, Netflix and Google went from narrow businesses to internet titans. The table is set for the next dominant players in every industry.

“…Early efforts show a new vision of the future of the internet, with the creation of immersive digital-only worlds as well as a deeper blurring between digital and physical.”

BMW is highlighted as an example of a company engaging in a real world use case of virtualization.

Nvidia's Omniverse technology is being used by BMW to create digital twins of 31 distinct plants. The models employ real-time data to generate a 3D world that reflects everything from the machinery on the floor to the individuals working at the stations. 

The environment is utilized for a variety of purposes, including teaching robots how to traverse the factory, bringing together designers from across the world to try out new line layouts, and training simulations for specific roles.

Accenture predicts that the metaverse will depend on web3 technologies to allow data to flow through different virtual landscapes and “worlds,” while retaining the ability to verify things like integrity, identity and asset ownership, etc.

“Web3 changes the way we treat data by establishing provenance, veracity and value. For all Web3 efforts, the goal is to create a layer of trust across the web by giving people control of their own data, letting them “own” a pair of digital shoes or securely authenticate their identities.”

The report advises companies to seek out expertise in the technologies required to build and participate in metaverse and web3:

“Enterprises will need 3D artists, game designers and experts on the platforms on which they plan to build. Companies will need expertise in multiple blockchains and relationships with different consortiums. Because of the distributed nature of Web3, they must also find partners to go to market with.”

Programmable World

Digital technology will increasingly allow “control, personalization, and automation” to be more seamlessly woven into our daily lives, according to Accenture. 

The report identifies three facets of a “programmable world”: the Connected, the Experiential and the Material.

“Connected” involves more pervasive use of physical iOT equipped objects assets to feed constant data to “digital twin” models of the physical world:

“These digital models of the physical world give businesses real-time insight into their environments and operations. The global digital twin market, valued at $3.21 billion in 2020, is expected to reach $184.5 billion by 2030.”  

A recent Canadian government-tied SCALE AI project grant illustrates how AI-powered real-time monitoring and modeling is growing in industry, and might soon be pervasive in society.

The grant provided 25 million to several projects. One involved a “Smart platform” for optimizing agricultural yield via AI monitoring, to be implemented in a year round indoor “vertical farming” environment.

Another grant involved using AI to use data from healthcare workers' geographic area, schedules, and skills, to manage healthcare response for in-home care, and even worker compensation.

The point isn’t whether an increasingly “Connected,” AI mediated world can improve efficiences of commercial or noncommercial processes. It obviously is already doing so. 

But the level of privacy, automation and consequent impacts on human behaviors and freedoms may well amount to a fundamental dehumanization. 

Do we really want to be tracked every moment of our lives by AI “efficiency optimizing” intelligences?

Augmented Reality, made possible by eyewear and other sensory devices, constitutes the “Experiential” part of a programmable world. The idea is that people will be able to use such technologies to engage in and create experiences that otherwise would not be possible.

The “Material” aspect of programmable reality is already happening via the ability of things like 3D printing and other tech advances to be leveraged to deliver highly customized products that cater to individual desires.

The Accenture report says that trend will grow, and advises that companies that gear themselves to provide “programmable world” functionality will reap rewards.

“The arrival of the programmable world will be the sharpest turning point for people and businesses in decades. We’re about to live in environments that can physically transform on command, that can be customized and controlled, and that can change faster and more often than we have ever seen before.” 

Computing The Impossible

The least detailed section of the Accenture report nonetheless identified Quantuum and other advanced supercomputing capabilities as something businesses needed to examine.

The vast quantity of data being supplied via digital acquisition is only being exploited to a fractional extent, because of current computing power limitations.

But new super computing technologies will be changing that, and very soon, the report predicts.

It advises companies to assess what sorts of business processes and problems might be addressed via super computing capabilities, and to build strategic partnerships to tap into the innovations on the horizon.

The Trends Journal has covered details and ramifications of quantum and supercomputing in articles such as “MICROSOFT ANNOUNCES GLOBAL AI ‘SINGULARITY’” (1 Mar 2022)

Turning Synthetic To Authentic: The Coming Tech Synthetic Sell

Perhaps the most controversial content in the “Meet Me In The Metaverse” report is contained in the section on “The Unreal.”

The section pushes for consumer deception in several troubling ways.

For example, it presents the idea that interactions with “synthetic” products and even intelligences will soon not be distinguishable from the natural and human ones—and that in many cases, people won’t and shouldn’t care.

The report provides examples such as consulting with medical expertize about personal matters, or seeing something in a commercial or entertainment context:

“When we see the news, we want to know if the video of the president is real—but when we watch the latest Doritos commercial, maybe it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes, we may prefer the unreal, like when we speak to a synthetic nurse about a skin rash or train an AI model with synthetic data adjusted to counter historical discrimination.” 

The report argues that at some point, people won’t make judgements based on whether some digital or lab created phenomenon or product is “real,” but instead whether it qualifies as “authentic.”

The Trends Journal has previously covered some of the innovations and controversies surrounding Synthetic Biology or “Synbio” in “SYNBIO AND BIO PHARMA: YES, THERE’S HUGE UPSIDE” (15 Mar 2022).

It’s true that synthetically made cotton, or wood, meat or insulin may be genetically indistinguishable from naturally produced alternatives.

But the Accenture report appears to make the case that people will be more accepting of the synthetic “unreal,” if the origin and nature of synthetic products is de-emphasized.

The report focuses more on AI in its discussion of the “unreal,” and says that people are already interacting more with AI systems without really thinking about it, whether it's reading AI created news stories, AI operators that route company calls and queries, etc.

At one point the report admits that AI algorithms are exerting influence in online communications and debate in a way that many who value free speech rights object to:

“Some believe the very use of AI algorithms in social media has created filter bubbles, echo chambers and algorithmic confounding.”

The Trends Journal has pointed out how AI technology is also being deployed on Commerce platforms like Amazon to create “individual”—and many believe—unfair price gouging (See “AI IS DETERMINING HOW MUCH YOU PAY FOR THAT,” 9 Nov 2021.)

In a subsection advising businesses on actions to take regarding the synthetic “unreal,” the report actually advises engaging in propaganda conditioning, to turn people away from asking whether what’s being provided is real:

“Since we know that being real has no direct bearing on being good, being real should not be the guiding star for business or society. Rather, we propose authenticity as the new compass. Authenticity means being true to oneself and genuine in a way that others can attest to.”

The statement does more than play twisting linguistic games with words like “real,” “authentic” and “genuine.”

It amounts to a clarion call to commercialize and embrace deception as a business model.

Fooling customers into accepting illusory experiences and conditioning them to perceive value in products, while offering little that is objectively valuable, is promoted as part of the profit model of the synthetic unreal.

“Being true to oneself” has been a modern siren call to reject cold hard objective reality that might stand in the way of one’s fanciful desires.

Synthetic Unreal “innovations” may promote and capitalize that relativism on a radical new level.

“Meet Me In The Metaverse” calls for using tech driven social engineering to condition people to actively reject expectations of acquiring products or services of objective value from commercial interactions.

Little wonder that people are already spending seemingly absurd amounts of money to purchase crude NFT digital art, virtual fashion wear, virtual land and other “property” in metaverse worlds.

While advocating generally for ways to profit from the synthetic unreal, the Accenture report does offer some caution about staying within the bounds of applicable laws.

It notes for example a 2019 California BOT Disclosure Law, which requires the disclosure of the use of AI bots to sell goods or services, or influence votes in elections.

Technology of Freedom Or Deception?

One of the shames of Accenture’s endorsement of commercial deception made possible by metaverse related technologies, is that blockchain and related web3 software tech can offer things that are objectively useful and valuable.

The real question is the motivations and purposes to which the technology might be employed.

Those who see humans as a scourge that must be more and more tightly monitored and controlled, will build web3 and metaverse technologies that seduce or imprison people into highly illusory experiences that limit their impacts in the “real world.”

To the extent excess humans still exist, corporate empowered elites will try to extract value from those masses, while minimizing environmental costs.

On the other hand, those who are true humanists might leverage web3 to create decentralized user and community centric projects and technologies that free people from the grip of traditional tech and elitist powers.

The Accenture report illustrates that people will need to become as educated as possible about the battle lines and issues at stake, in order to fight effectively for the future of humankind.

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