Exploring the metaverse: New “CBS Mornings” series looks at the possibilities and limitations of virtual worlds

In the 1990s, the internet upgraded almost every aspect of our lives. Then came smartphones, which allowed us to take the internet with us. And now, if you believe the hype, a new revolution is here.

“CBS Mornings” is starting a new series, “Mornings in the Metaverse,” exploring what many in the tech world say is the next big thing. The metaverse enables users to immerse themselves in the internet — perhaps sitting in a virtual office before heading out to enjoy the virtual beach.

Facebook, Microsoft and so many others are investing billions in what may become a single 3D virtual world, or maybe several worlds, connected — or maybe not. No one is quite sure, except to say that you’ll hopefully want to spend a lot of time and money there.

Microsoft is spending nearly $70 billion to acquire a gaming company that can help build virtual worlds. Apple is reportedly developing a new mixed-reality headset. And Facebook changed its corporate name to Metaa nod to what it sees as the future.

“The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embody an internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. And we call this the metaverse,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in an October announcement.

To get a sense of what the metaverse is, “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil visited an existing piece of it — or at least his avatar did. He chatted with people on a social platform called “AltspaceVR,” made by Microsoft, and accessed it through a Facebook headset.

Dokoupil met people from all over the world, with all of them coming together in what, at times, felt like genuine human contact, he said.

“Right now I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico,” metaverse user Athena Demos told him, pointing out that, “Our consciousness is in the same room right now having a conversation.”

Demos considers both the physical world of Oaxaca and this virtual space to be the real world.

“There’s virtual reality and physical reality. They’re both reality,” she said.

David Chalmers, a philosophy professor at New York University and the author of the book “Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy,” argues that the virtual world has the potential to be a meaningful one.

“People say, ‘Oh my God, it’s a dystopia. We’re going to be spending hours a day inside these virtual worlds, far from nature.’ I don’t know about you, but I already spend most of my day inside,” Chalmers said.

“The meaning that we find in the physical world comes from us. We invest a physical world with meaning. And I think we can do the same to a digital world,” he said. “Yeah, OK, it’s all made of a bunch of bits. But the physical world is made of a bunch of atoms. Meaning comes where we find it.”

What really worries Chalmers is more of a timeless question about the people building these new worlds: Would powerful CEOs like Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook essentially be the gods of the metaverse?

“They may not have other traditional properties of God. For example, will they be all good or all wise? Almost certainly not,” Chalmers said. “And this is one of the reasons why we have to worry about who it is that creates and controls our virtual worlds.”

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