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Tech Company Solutions No One Is Asking For

Tech Company Solutions No One Is Asking For
By Newsletter • Issue #23 • View online
It’s been a week for tech companies introducing products that, honestly, no one is asking for. Both Facebook and Tesla rolled out significant pieces of their grand ambitions for various technologies, and I can’t decide whether they are brilliant, or terrifying. Let’s start with Facebook

Facebook’s Vision of the Metaverse Is a Conference Room?
Thursday morning, Facebook rolled out the first real-world piece of Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of turning the company into a pillar of the metaverse. Known as Horizon Workrooms, it’s an interactive virtual reality tool for meetings. Basically, that means you can now attend a meeting by way of an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, and you appear in a shared space as an avatar character, along with all of your co-workers. 
Of course, before we get too far, it’s helpful to briefly talk about the metaverse. In an interview with Gayle King on CBS, Zuckerberg described it this way:
So I think of the metaverse as the next generation of the internet, so you can kind of think about it as, instead of being an internet that we look at, it’s an internet that we are a part of or that we can be inside of.
As Zuckerberg defines it, the metaverse is a way of connecting to other people and experiences in digital spaces. It could be for work, for gaming, for watching a movie, or for attending school. 
CBS This Morning
.@Facebook revealed to @GayleKing it's launching "Horizon Workrooms," a new VR app aimed at reinventing virtual office spaces.

In the workroom, you can see your computer screen and keyboard, interact with colleagues, brainstorm and give presentations.

Here's how it works.
For example, instead of attending a work meeting via Zoom, you attend in virtual reality and can interact within a shared space. You can see the people around you, and you hear them in relation to where they are located in the “room.” You can even bring your laptop into the virtual meeting room to take notes or view information.
This sounds like a very good thing in a world where businesses are trying to figure out how to bring people back to the office, and many of those people are trying to decide if they ever want to go back at all. If all of your meetings are in a virtual space, it matters far less where you’re physically located. This is why–to anyone who thinks that technology has a solution to every problem–this probably sounds very cool. To me, it sounds terrible. 
I should clarify upfront, I have not yet experienced Horizon Workrooms personally (or is it virtually?). My thoughts are less about the experience–which many have said is “incredible.” My thoughts are about the idea. 
What Zuckerberg rolled out seems fine for playing video games, or other forms of entertainment. Attending a concert in virtual reality with all of your friends would certainly be novel. But, work is different.
In all of the reporting I’ve done on remote work, I’ve never once heard anyone argue that the thing they wish for is that someone would invent technology to make it easier for managers to force the worst thing about working in an office on people who work remotely. 
First of all, let’s assume there are two types of people–those who like meetings and those who don’t. I tend to believe there are far more of the latter, and most of those in the former group are managers. That alone explains most of the problems people have with meetings. 
One of the largely unspoken reasons that so many people would rather continue working remotely is because it creates a barrier between themselves and their work. In a lot of cases, it means fewer meetings–or, at least fewer of the meetings that happen simply because everyone is around and it’s convenient for the manager to call a meeting instead of sending an email. 
During King’s interview with Zuckerberg, she made the observation that she was “zoomed out,” a reference to the fact that we’ve all spent a lot of time on Zoom video calls doing the things we used to do face to face. That’s true, many of us are exhausted by Zoom meetings, but I don’t know anyone who thinks the solution is to create a more immersive form of video calls. 
The main argument for Facebook’s virtual conference room seems to be that it will make teams more productive. Except, there’s a very real disconnect between what a manager thinks productivity looks like, and what people who are trying to get work done think. 
The biggest reason that meetings are such a frustration is that they get in the way of actually doing the work you are expected to complete. Most people don’t want more ways to talk about work–especially when it involves putting on a VR headset–they want more time to do their work without a constant stream of interruptions. 
All of that said, I have to admit that for Facebook, this is quite brilliant. It’s far easier to convince a finite number of managers to spend the money on Oculus Quest 2 headsets and impose the inconvenience of virtual meetings on their team than it is to get everyone else to buy a headset and dive into the metaverse. 
If Facebook is going to make the metaverse a thing, it makes sense that it’s going to start with meetings. I just can’t help but think that Zuckerberg’s dream is, once again, about to become a nightmare for the rest of us.
Tesla is Building a Robot
Then, later on Thursday, at an event called “AI Day,” Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, doubled down on the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) efforts. The most interesting thing he announced had nothing to do with Tesla’s cars, however. Musk says the company is planning to build an AI-powered humanoid robot.
I think it’s important to be clear that Tesla’s livestream wasn’t really a product launch, as much as it was a recruiting event. In that sense, it was brilliant. Building a self-driving car isn’t nearly as exciting as working on a robot that lives in your home and can do things humans can do like clean, cook, or go to the store for eggs. 
Certainly, if you’re trying to improve your AI-computing capabilities, getting people excited about edge cases is a good way to recruit smart people to your cause. And, if the problems Tesla has had hitting its own goals is any indication, the company could use all the help it can get.
For example, Tesla is facing an investigation into its autopilot feature over a series of incidents where the company’s vehicles collided with emergency vehicles with their lights flashing along the side of the road. Will a Tesla Bot randomly run into your couch, or table? 
Musk also promised there would be a million fully autonomous vehicles on the road by the middle of 2020. That still hasn’t happened. Eventually, all of those broken promises add up and start to damage your credibility. That’s a problem for obvious reasons. Finding smart people to help Tesla solve the challenges of AI is a smart move–especially if it means that it can actually deliver on those promises.
There is another problem, however. The fact that Musk had to clarify that you’ll be able to outrun the bot, and that you should have no trouble overpowering it, says a lot about the level of anxiety most people have about inviting an artificially intelligent computer, shaped like a human, into their home. As cool as it might sound, I’m not sure the world is ready for that. 
I’m also skeptical that–assuming Tesla ever delivers this product–it will lead to the AI-driven utopia that Musk is promising. Musk seems to think that having a robot that can handle trivial labor will lead to a future where “physical work will be a choice.” Of course, in this version, everyone would be supported by a universal basic income from the government. There are a lot of dots to connect there, and almost none of them seem likely any time soon. 
What does seem likely would be that instead of a robot that can take care of mundane tasks like grocery shopping, corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals would simply buy them all to replace workers on assembly lines, in grocery stores, or at restaurants, putting millions of people out of work. That’s not exactly utopia.
That’s why I have a hard time deciding whether the entire thing is terrifying, or brilliant. I suppose it’s both. For Tesla, it’s brilliant if your goal is to attract attention and the talent you need to make it happen.
For the rest of us, I’m comforted by the fact that the chances of seeing one of these walking down the aisle in the grocery store towards me are practically zero. That’s a good thing because the thought of that is absolutely terrifying. 
Other stories you might like:
A Crypto Platform Lost $600 Million to a Hacker In the Biggest Heist Ever. Its Bizarre Response Is Actually Quite Brilliant |
Elon Musk's Ambitious Plan to Build a Self-Driving Tesla Has Just 1 Problem. It Doesn't Work |
Facebook Refuses to Fix the Most Frustrating Thing About Instagram. It Just Keeps Making Things Worse |
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