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News from, and for, the real and virtual worlds

Professor Wong Kam Fai
Professor Wong Kam Fai • 5 min read
News from, and for, the real and virtual worlds
How will media companies evolve to thrive in the metaverse and what are the issues they might face?
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Innovative technologies continue to influence the future development of the media industry. How will this industry evolve (or re-evolve) over the next 30 years as we approach the midpoint of this century?

It is envisaged that, in the near future, advancements in big data analytics will facilitate highly personalised information and communication services, while 5G/6G (or nG) communication technology will enable multi-channel data collection and dissemination, leading to ubiquitous and timely information delivery. In addition to that, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be key to ensuring information authenticity and security.

Media agencies will not stop upgrading their personalised services in the coming decades. The younger generation and post-millennials who are enthusiastic for virtual forms of entertainment will be the specific segment they seek to reach. Therefore, applications of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and the combination of both, i.e., Mixed Reality (MR), technologies will come into the spotlight.

In this camp, the “metaverse” (a word borrowed from ‘universe’) platform is a rising middleware technology. The recently listed American mobile game company, Roblox, publicly announced that their future business strategy would be devoted to the metaverse and it has plans to put major money into the field.

What makes the metaverse a hot concept? This middleware platform is not simply just another virtual world, but an open platform enabling other developers to participate and develop their own content as well as to create their own mini worlds therein.

This open platform concept is similar to information crowdsourcing in Wikipedia where users, including you and me, chip in and together we incrementally construct the world’s knowledge base. For sure, social media giants like Meta (formerly known as Facebook) and Tencent would not want to be left behind and are betting their future on the metaverse too.

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Due to worldwide publicity on cyber companies like Roblox, Meta, Tencent, etc., the metaverse is commonly associated with the mobile gaming arena. Nevertheless, in reality, future metaverse content will not be confined to games and entertainment.

How media companies will adapt to the metaverse

Since the post-millennials will be even more deeply immersed (drowned) in the virtual world, media companies will be eager to take advantage of this phenomenon to deliver real-time personalised information and news to their future clients in the virtual world. For effective personalised services, they will use AI-based behavioural analytics technology to understand the interests of their clients to present their most desired news.

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Information presentation will not be restricted to 2D formats (e.g. in the form of text, images, etc.); 3D animation will be popular. Animated news will be integrated as a part of the client's cyber life. Real-time text-to-animation technology will be widely used for this purpose. For example, your favourite Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in the future will appear in the form of a 3D Avatar in the metaverse.

However, while sophisticated, strong AI is the vision of computer scientists, these AI-enabled virtual KOLs in the foreseeable future might be designed for multiple domains, but still rely on weak AI.

Disinformation to plague the metaverse

Disinformation, especially fake news, will be overwhelming in the metaverse. Integration of the real and virtual worlds will make disinformation hardly traceable, making the metaverse a highly untrustworthy and even dangerous media. As a result, discrimination, hatred and bullying will be the new norm.

Although AI researchers worldwide have been working diligently on technologies for rumour detection, they have yet to resolve the technological complications due to the metaverse, user's virtual/physical behaviours, exchanges between 3D avatars, etc. and their interactions.

Take for example the fake news saga caused by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 USA Presidential Election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, following which the social media giant Meta became determined to debunk fake news. However, surprisingly it tried in vain to develop an automatic AI solution and was forced to rely on human experts for the final decision.

In reality, true or fake information is not dichotomous. The judgement is purely subjective and depends on the stance or opinion of the speakers. This is a human issue that can only be resolved (rightly or wrongly) by the listeners (or assessors).

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Therefore, today many governments, including Korea and Singapore, have no hesitation in establishing laws to prevent fake news. These legislative efforts are widely regarded as a part of National Security. However, they will find it extremely complicated when dealing with disinformation in the metaverse.

Recently, a Hong Kong media company has announced a partnership with an international virtual world game company to explore the metaverse collaboratively. The Hong Kong media outlet has plans to recreate modern and historic locations and artefacts of Hong Kong and Mainland China, such as the Kowloon Walled City, in collaboration with local game studios and creators.

This all sounds positive in that it will bring together Hong Kong’s past and present in the metaverse of the game company. Yet from another perspective, this arrangement also opens up avenues for bad actors to spread fabricated disinformation widely and rapidly in and out of Hong Kong and across the globe.

Under the reverse 80:20 rule, in the future netizens will spend most of their time deeply immersed in the metaverse. As such, disinformation from online (virtual-) to offline (real-world) can have serious consequences.

Finally, Hong Kong, a city enjoying the freedom of information, has an unshiftable duty to examine the disinformation issue – an area where the CUHK AI team is actively performing R&D in this field technically, socially, and ethically.

Professor Wong Kam Fai is the Associate Dean (External Affairs) for the Faculty of Engineering Director, Centre for Innovation and Technology, at The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Photo: Unsplash

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