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A killer app for the metaverse? Fill it with AI avatars of ourselves – so we don’t need to go there

Many people are talking about this coming virtual world, but many others would rather stay where they are.

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Ready avatar one? Athitat Shinagowin

Big numbers coming. Microsoft’s US$75 billion (£55 billion) acquisition of Activision Blizzard has landed – true to Call of Duty vernacular – “like a bomb” on the US$200 billion revenue video games industry.

It heavily arms the Xbox giant for its vision of the metaverse, in which gaming is the marketing adrenaline of this much-touted online future that is to be experienced immersively through virtual reality (VR) headsets or augmented-reality (AR) glasses. The stock market knocked US$10 billion off Playstation maker Sony’s valuation on the news.

The metaverse was also a big noise at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, branded “tech’s hottest trend” by Variety magazine. Product launches included Samsung’s new VR world My House, offering virtual home makeovers; and US beauty tech group Perfect Corp’s AR-driven virtual beauty makeover range, which lets people experiment with cosmetics and accessories using AR.

Certainly the metaverse has been fast-moving, even since (in October 2021) Facebook renamed itself Meta - a bold step when VR only brings in about 3% of the company’s current revenue. But Bloomberg is predicting that the overall metaverse will be generating revenues of US$800 billion as soon as 2024 (compared to US$500 billion in 2020), so the prize is huge.

About half of that 2024 projection is expected from video games, while a substantial remainder is from live entertainment – and major artists like Ariana Grande and Marshmello have already been holding concerts in the virtual world.

Yet besides niche attractions for early adopters, what about the rest of us? Will we sign up for virtual interaction en masse when the technology is ready in a few years time? Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg thinks that the metaverse will allow people “to feel present – like we’re right there … no matter how far apart we actually are”.

But hang on a second

Maybe Zuckerberg shouldn’t be so sure. Change in tech and entertainment is never predictable – as anyone who remembers 3D movies will confirm.

As Elon Musk said in December:

I currently am unable to see a compelling metaverse situation … I don’t see someone strapping a frigging screen to their face all day and not wanting to ever leave. Sure, you can put a TV on your nose. I’m not sure that makes you ‘in the metaverse’.

An organisation that promotes all things Icelandic, Inspired by Iceland, tapped into similar concerns with an November 2021 commercial titled “Introducing the Icelandverse”. The host parodied Zuckerberg’s evangelical “I’m so excited to tell you” launch film for Meta, to champion analogue existence instead: “It’s already here … Enhanced actual reality, without silly-looking headsets … It’s completely immersive, with water that’s wet.”

Those makers deserve an award for spotting the zeitgeist. Social and entertainment trends show plenty of people craving real-world experiences. US data shows an urban shuffle out of cities to smaller towns and the great outdoors, for instance. Touring is the principle revenue driver in music (pandemic aside).

German filmmaker Jens Meurer’s analogue-celebrating The Impossible Project has just hit the cinemas, about the man who saved the last Polaroid factory. The UK’s BBC One has a hit show in The Repair Shop, conceptual opposite of the metaverse: “A workshop filled with expert craftspeople … A heartwarming antidote to throwaway culture.”

It’s therefore easy to query the idea of a seamless theme park future where your life is a video game. Attractive products coming down the pipes will tempt some people – Apple reportedly has cool VR/AR ski-style goggles, and Bond-style intelligent contact lenses have already been made. But will we really embrace office life VR-style (possible now on Oculus) where your accounts team are avatars with hipster beards, and your Monday sales catch-up is in a virtual ski lodge?

Meet your AI avatars

Appropriately enough, there is an alternative paradigm for the alternative paradigm that is the metaverse. Instead of us accessing the metaverse, we could leave it to someone else - delegating it to synthetic versions of ourselves created via machine learning.

Trained on our needs and likes, our synthetic selves would navigate digital spaces with ease. Combine everything Amazon and Facebook know already about your purchase intent, add your dinner conversation, a quick morning meeting to set priorities – and your digital avatar could be a functioning replica.

It would need no physical existence, but could synthesise your speech and your physical features and go forth into metaland. It will negotiate your new electricity contract, pick some clothes out, book a plumber – you name it.

This is the metaverse where the work gets done: our avatars execute the boring jobs in the virtual world - buying a new fridge, negotiating a deal - while we focus on what really matters in the real one.

It could function like the invisible place below the stairs where the actual work gets done in Downton Abbey. Or as your own private call centre, with banks of agent versions of you handling tedious customers, while the real you can go to the real beach. (The New Yorker once called the author Clive James “a great bunch of guys”. In the metaverse that could actually be true.)

Strip back the metaverse to this functional space and it’s even more interesting than the current, predominantly entertainment-driven conceits - and possibly an even bigger opportunity. Sure, we’ve all heard about dystopian AIs or alarming reports on deep fakes and bot armies, but there will be blockchain ways of proving our avatar identities in the metaverse so the worst dangers can be avoided.

And as AI guru Andrew Ng at Stanford put it anyway: “Worrying about evil AI killer robots today is a little bit like worrying about overpopulation on the planet Mars.”

The space is still forming. But maybe AI replicas will be the killer application that brings us the best of virtual worlds, without giving up the best of the real world we have already.

As they put it in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One: “Reality is the only thing that’s real.”

Alex Connock does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Sam Bankman-Fried could spend up to $1B in 2024 to thwart Trump comeback

The FTX founder said he’d spend “north of $100 million” with a “soft ceiling” of $1 billion and added “who knows what’s going to happen between…

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The FTX founder said he’d spend “north of $100 million” with a “soft ceiling” of $1 billion and added “who knows what’s going to happen between now and then.”

The billionaire founder and CEO of theFTX cryptocurrency exchange Sam Bankman-Fried has revealed he intends to spend anywhere between $100 million and $1 billion to help influence the 2024 United States presidential election campaigns.

In a podcast interview on May 24 Bankman-Fried was asked how much money he might donate during the next presidential election cycle, answering he’d give “north of $100 million” with a “soft ceiling” of $1 billion if he were to bankroll the person running against former president Donald Trump.

“I would hate to say hard ceiling because who knows what’s going to happen between now and then.”

According to the government watchdog OpenSecrets, which tracks data on campaign finance and lobbying, a $1 billion donation would break existing records multiple times over.

The largest individual political donors are currently the Republican business owners Sheldon and Miriam Adelson who spent $218 million in 2020.

Bankman-Fried continued by saying the amount he donates is “super contingent” and “really dependent on exactly who's running where and for why,” adding it’s likely he would spread the money across multiple organizations.

“I think that I'm going to be looking a lot less at political parties from that perspective and a lot more about sane governance and ads for the things that I care the most about.”

He said one of the most important issues to him is preventing the next pandemic which he thinks would cost “tens of billions of dollars.”

“The United States has both a big opportunity and big responsibility to the world to shepherd the West in a powerful but responsible manner,” and added that everything the country does has “massive ripple effects on what the future looks like.”

Bankman-Fried has donated millions to politicians in the past contributing $5.2 million in donations to now-President Joe Biden’s 2020 election campaign.

Related: Sam Bankman-Fried: The crypto whale who wants to give billions away

He also backs the political action committee (PAC) “Protect Our Future” set up in January 2022 which to April spent $9 million supporting Democratic candidates.

Earlier in May the PAC spent in the range of $8 to $10 million backing Carrick Flynn who failed to win the Democratic primary election for the newly created Oregon 6th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, there may be a scenario where Bankman-Fried decides not to donate any money at all, although he thinks the possibility of that is “very low”:

“There's a world which ends up being close to zero if things just work out such that there isn't much I'm excited about.”

The FTX CEO didn’t state in the interviews which crypto related policies he would push for. Over at rival exchange Coinbase, efforts are ramping up in terms of lobbying for crypto favorable policies with last week’s announcement of a “crypto native” think tank, the Coinbase Institute.

It will publish research on crypto and Web3 to bolster the exchange's lobbying efforts. In 2021 the firm was the biggest spending blockchain company in terms of lobbying with over $1.3 million spent.

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Questions arise on Y Combinator’s role in startup correction

Some are pointing the finger not just at late-stage capital pools that poured too much liquidity into the startup market — some startup players are irked…

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A chill has descended onto the global startup market, albeit not evenly. Venture capital totals are sagging in most geographies, and falling share prices for tech companies large and small have soured sentiment on the future value of high-growth and often cash-hungry startups.

The end of the lengthy startup boom that first formed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and largely powered through until the final months of 2021 is shaking out, changing how the market views certain entities.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Every business cycle has winners and losers, heroes and villains. Some earlier winners turned out to be losers. Tiger, the mega-crossover fund, has evolved from a market-dominating change agent in technology financing to a bag holder. SoftBank’s various Vision Fund efforts are suffering. And some crypto investments that looked to be massive wins have sputtered.

Torben Friehe, CEO of Wingback (YC W22), told TechCrunch earlier this year that many founders that he has spoken to have decided to hold off on fundraising in the current climate, adding that other founders from “across the ecosystem” are saying “that if you have to fundraise right now, you basically have to cut whatever you’d planned to raise back in January in half.”

The winners and losers scorebook isn’t that hard to draw up. But the heroes and villains ledger is a bit more difficult. But with the startup market so changed, so quickly, whiplash is setting in among the investing class. And some are pointing the finger not just at late-stage capital pools that poured too much liquidity into the startup market — some startup players are irked at accelerators, Y Combinator in particular. Let’s talk about it.

The return of fear

The latest missives from venture players are once again downturn letters. We last saw a round of these notes when COVID-19 first hit the world outside of China, leading to economic calamity and lockdowns. Investors warned startups to buckle up for bad times. But, as we now know, the bad times never came for most of them.

Instead, ironically, the pandemic became an accelerant of sorts, pushing more business toward tech companies that helped other concerns operate remotely; an accelerating digital transformation was another tailwind bolstering the tech sector, giving startups a shot in the arm.

The most recent round of warnings from venture capitalists appears more frequent than we saw in 2020, leading our own Natasha Mascarenhas to note over the weekend that “everyone is drafting their own startup Black Swan memo.” Among the various firms that sent advice to their portfolios was Y Combinator.

Y Combinator, or YC for short, is the world’s best-known accelerator. Its expanding cohort sizes, twice-yearly cadence and “standard deal” made it a trendsetting startup program; one that has sufficient heft to influence the overall direction of the early-stage market for funding upstart technology companies. And, after starting life offering “about $20,000 for 6% of a company,” YC raised its terms in 2020 to “$125,000 for 7% equity on a post-money SAFE,” along with reduced pro-rata rights “to 4% of subsequent rounds.”

That changed again in early 2022, when YC added a $375,000 note to its deal, offered on an uncapped basis but with most-favored-nation status. In essence, YC conserved its ability to collect 7% of startup equity early, with extra capital provided to its portfolio companies to put to work.

Over the last few years, YC has raised the valuation bar for its startups, from around $333,333 (6% of a company for $20,000) to $1.79 million (7% of a company for $125,000). Even more, the additional capital it now offers on an uncapped basis likely worked to cement early-stage startup expectations that their accelerator valuation was market valid.

Abhinaya Konduru, an investor at Midwest-focused venture fund M25, told TechCrunch that her firm has “been skeptical of a couple of national accelerators’ valuation practices from an investing standpoint even before the last couple of years,” adding that changes to early-stage valuations from select accelerators — she did not call any program out by name — “made it even harder to consider those companies for an investment to the point where [M25] stopped looking at them.”

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Bitcoin, Gold and Bonds could dominate 2022 – Bloomberg Intelligence

Inflation is arguably out of control globally, with rates hitting as high as 9% in the United Kingdom while the M1 money supply grows.
The post Bitcoin,…

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Inflation is arguably out of control globally, with rates hitting as high as 9% in the U.K. while the M1 money supply grows. The stock markets have taken a massive hit, with over $7 trillion wiped off the Nasdaq in the last four months.

A senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, Mike McGlone, said:

“If stocks are going limp, Bitcoin, Gold, and Bonds could rule.”

McGlone shared the chart below to support his claim.

Source: Twitter

This spread chart shows the U.S. Treasury 10-year bond yield in orange and the price of Bitcoin against the NASDAQ 100 over the past four years. At the bottom of the Bitcoin bear market, around 2018, the chart shows a double bottom ratio of 0.5 before rising to 2.0 in early 2021.

The ability of Bitcoin to hold the 2.0 ratio since January 2021 indicates that it is performing well amid its first potential recession. The last extended global recession occurred due to the 2008 financial crisis, which was a year before the birth of Bitcoin.

Since its inception, Bitcoin has flourished in a thriving global economy. The COVID-19 hurdle of early 2020 was surpassed due to trillions of dollars flooding into circulation, much of which made its way into cryptocurrency. As the world deals with the impact of the rapid increase in money supply, Bitcoin appears to be holding firm compared to other risk-on investments.

McGlone states that “Greater Risk in About a Year May Be #Deflation.” However, his overall sentiment continues to focus on the ability of Bitcoin and Gold to outperform the market in the near future. 

“Following an extended period of outperformance, an underperformance period may be overdue for the #stockmarket, which may shine on #gold and #Bitcoin. The BOLD1 Index (gold, bitcoin combo) has kept pace with the Nasdaq 100 Stock Index in a bull market and with lower volatility.”

The supporting chart shows the declining volatility of BOLD1 against the NASDAQ 100 index since 2019.

BOLD1 chart
Source: Twitter

 

The post Bitcoin, Gold and Bonds could dominate 2022 – Bloomberg Intelligence appeared first on CryptoSlate.

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